On August 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) announced that it would extend several nationwide school meal waivers through the end of the 2020 calendar year, “or until available funding runs out.” The waivers – several of which were the subject of recent contention between USDA and Democrats in Congress – include the following:
- Waiver to allow the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) (notice);
- Area eligibility waiver allowing SFSP and SSO meals to be served in all areas and at no cost (extension notice);
- Non-congregate waiver permitting meals to be served outside of the typically-required group settings (extension notice);
- Waiver permitting meals to be served outside of the typically-required meal times (extension notice);
- Waiver of meal pattern requirements as necessary (extension notice); and
- Waiver allowing parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children (extension notice).
As discussed in our prior note here, USDA had previously been claiming that it did not have the authority to extend the operation of the SPSP and NSLP SSO programs into the regular school year, nor to continue waiving income-based eligibility criteria. Last Wednesday, August 26, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, fired a letter back to USDA Secretary Perdue stating that, “The Department’s refusal to extend all school meal waivers is inconsistent and baffling during this national crisis, especially considering that as many as 17 million children did not get enough to eat this summer and there are no signs of the situation improving once the summer is over. By passing the FFCRA authorities into law, Congress clearly gave the Department the tools it needs to continue providing the necessary waivers throughout the duration of the pandemic.”
The extension of these waivers through the end of the calendar year is encouraging; however, it falls short of the demand from Sen. Stabenow and Rep. Scott who called for the flexibilities to be put in place through the entire 2020-2021 school year. It also appears that the Department may continue to raise concerns regarding how much funding Congress has provided in order to maintain the loosened eligibility guidelines, which may factor into ongoing relief negotiations this Fall.