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USDA Extends Free Universal School Meal Service for Children Through the Summer

By Evie Blad — March 10, 2021 1 min read
Marilyn Linares, a bus driver with the Montgomery County School District, helps load a bus with bags of food to be donated to residents on July 10, 2020, in Derwood, Md.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended waivers of some school meal rules through Sept. 30, giving schools more flexibility to feed hungry children during the summer months.

Schools have relied on the waivers, which give them greater flexibility in how and when they serve meals, since the first broad closures in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

The federal agency has extended the waivers several times as schools’ operations and students’ lives continue to be upended by COVID-19. Before the USDA announced the extension Tuesday, the waivers were set to expire June 30.

The waivers cover several areas:

  • Allow schools and community programs to serve free meals under the summer food program rules in all areas. That program is usually restricted to areas that meet certain poverty thresholds.
  • Allow schools to serve meals outside of typical meal times and group settings, allowing for “grab and go” options that families can take home during remote learning or when it is not safe to eat in a group setting.
  • Allow parents to pick up one or more meals for their children, even if the children aren’t present.

The School Nutrition Association, which represents school food professionals around the country, has advocated for extending meal waivers even further into the fall in anticipation of continued remote learning for some families.

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