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USDA to extend free meals to children into Summer 2021 due to pandemic

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Posted at 12:55 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 13:55:51-05

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Tuesday, March 9, the nationwide extension of waivers allowing all children to continue to receive meals this summer when schools are out of session.

The USDA says waivers are available now through Sept. 30, 2021.

The extension, according to the department, is to provide local program operators with clarity and certainty for the summer months ahead, when many children cannot access the school meals they depend on during the academic year. The waivers were previously extended only through June 30, 2021.

“We will do everything we can to make sure children get access to healthy, nutritious meals regardless of their families’ financial circumstances,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Our child nutrition professionals are doing a heroic job ensuring kids across the country have proper nutrition throughout this public health emergency, often times with limited resources. USDA is committed to providing local operators with the flexibilities and resources they need to continue offering the best meal service possible to their children, given their day-to-day realities.”

The USDA says that waivers extended today allow for safe meal distribution sites that serve all children for free, regardless of income.

The waivers will also provide the following:

  • Allow meals served through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) – collectively known as “summer meal programs” – to be made available in all areas at no cost
  • Allow meals to be served outside of the normally required group settings and meal times
  • Allow parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children, including bulk pick-up to cover multiple days of feeding children.

According to the department, up to 12 million children are living in households where they may not always have enough to eat. These critically needed summer meals will provide relief to many children in families who have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and are fighting daily to put food on the table.

Summer meal sites are places where children and youth age 18 and under can receive meals at no cost in a safe environment. The meals are also available to persons over age 18 with mental or physical disabilities. Sites may be located in a variety of settings including schools, parks, community centers, libraries, churches and more.

USDA says it is issuing this guidance as early as possible to empower communities to establish as many meal sites as they can effectively manage this summer.

To learn more about how the program works and the role of sponsors and meal sites, visit

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