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USDA Extends Waivers to Help Schools Feed Hungry Kids During COVID-19 Closures

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture extended waivers from rules for school meal programs Friday so that schools can continue feeding students affected by closures due to the coronavirus pandemic through the summer months.

The federal agency originally eased several rules in the spring as schools closed and local meal programs shifted from serving lunches in cafeterias to distributing take-home meals under social distancing protocols. 

Those waivers were set to expire June 30 or when the official federal public health emergency ends. In a Friday announcement, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue extended the flexibility until Aug. 31.

"As our nation reopens and people return to work, we want to continue to be flexible since there is not a one size fits all approach to feeding kids," Perdue said in a statement. "Extending these waivers throughout the summer ensures local operators can make plans that best suit their communities and keep children fed."

The waivers Perdue extended:

  • Allow for non-congregate feeding, which means schools can serve meals outside of the normally-required group settings to support social distancing.
  • Waive a rule that children must be present when parents pick up grab-and-go meals for them.
  • Waive requirements related to standard serving times, allowing more flexibility for mass distribution.

Child nutrition advocates had pushed for the waivers to be extended until Sept. 30.

 Photo: Gemini Middle School staff member Nikho Seham prepares meals to distribute free means in Niles, Ill., in April. The school serves meals meals each week for all children under the age of 18 during school closure from the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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