WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Tuesday that it will continue to reimburse schools and childcare centers for free meals provided to all students through the 2021-2022 school year.
The USDA says it has granted a nationwide waiver that allows the serving of food outside of standard meals times for several of its child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO), which is typically only available during the summer months.
The waiver remains in effect through June 30, 2020, or until expiration of the federally declared public health emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic, whichever is earlier.
The USDA says schools that choose the SSO option will receive higher-than-normal meal reimbursements for every meal they serve, which will support them in serving nutritious meals while also managing increased costs associated with the pandemic.
The Biden administration says the waiver will allow schools to provide healthy meals free of charge to children as the pandemic continues to threaten nutrition security for the most vulnerable in the country.
“USDA will remain relentless in ensuring our nation’s children get the critical nutrition they need,” wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall. USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines. This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids. It’s a win-win for kids, parents and schools.”
According to the USDA, up to 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not always have enough to eat during the pandemic. And some of these kids rely on these programs for as many as three meals a day.
“Students’ success in the classroom goes hand in hand with their ability to access basic needs like healthy and nutritious meals,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “It’s critical that our efforts to reopen schools quickly and safely include programs that provide access to free, healthy meals for our most vulnerable students, particularly those whose communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic. This program will ensure more students, regardless of their educational setting, can access free, healthy meals as more schools reopen their doors for in-person learning.”