WASHINGTON — To ensure input from stakeholders involved with supplying essential meals to children in the public school systems throughout the country is considered, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is extending the comment period for proposed reforms to rules on school meals. The proposed reforms, which were announced on Jan. 17, would make the administration of school and summer meal programs less cumbersome and more flexible. The USDA announced it would extend the comment period by 30 days, due to how many stakeholders in the program are currently dealing with the impact of school closures resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. The new deadline for comments is April 22.

“USDA is providing additional time to ensure those who wish to provide input do not miss out on the opportunity while dealing with the impacts of the novel coronavirus outbreak,” the agency said.

“This extension will allow schools, state agencies, stakeholders, and others who are working tirelessly to ensure children have food to eat while schools are closed the opportunity to provide valuable feedback.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently announced provisions to facilitate meal availability at no cost to students during school closures, while minimizing exposure to the coronavirus. During a public health crisis, the USDA is granted the authority to waive the requirement to serve the meals in a group setting to minimize the risk of spreading disease. 

“USDA is using all available program flexibilities and contingencies to serve our program participants across our 15 nutrition programs,” the agency said. “We have already begun to issue waivers to ease program operations and protect the health of participants. As of today, USDA has been asked to waive congregate feeding requirements in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and USDA has granted those requests.”