USDA extends free meals for children amid coronavirus pandemic

Program to continue through Dec. 31, 2020

(News 6)

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Monday the extension of federal waivers allowing flexibilities in child nutrition programs to continue feeding all Michigan children during the coronavirus pandemic.

This means meals will continue to be provided to children ages 18 and under at no cost to the families. This will continue through Dec. 31, 2020.

“This unprecedented move will help ensure – no matter what the situation is on-the-ground – children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. USDA has been and continues to be committed to using the Congressionally appropriated funding that has been made available,” reads a statement from the USDA.

The program waivers were set to expire Aug. 31. The waivers include:

  • Allowing SFSP and SSO meals to be served in all areas and at no cost;
  • Permitting meals to be served outside of the typically-required group settings and meal times;
  • Waiving meal pattern requirements as necessary; and
  • Allowing parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children.

The potential changes to the program were raising alarm bells for some Michigan officials. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said the U.S. Department of Agriculture did a fantastic job last spring by getting food to needy children.

She said the department waived rules and spent money to make it easier for children to get meals. But now, she’s angry that the department is about to slash that spending.

“I don’t know why they have decided that they’re going to stop providing access to critical food for children, but at the moment, that is their decision and we are calling on them to use the flexibility Congress gave them,” Stabenow said. “We didn’t take any of it away. They still have it.”

Read back: Michigan officials alarmed by potential changes to pandemic school lunch program