WASHINGTON — The US Department of Agriculture recently announced that it would extend its summer free meal program to continue serving free meals to all children through June 30, 2021. The agency previously said the program would be extended until the end of 2020.

“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially. We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation.”

After the announcement by the USDA, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) can continue to issue waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through June 30, or until available funding at the time.

“These waiver extensions are great news for America's students and the school nutrition professionals working so hard to support them throughout this pandemic,” said Reggie Ross, president of the School Nutrition Association. “Families struggling to make ends meet can be assured that their students will have access to healthy school meals, whether they are learning at home or in school. School meal programs can remain focused on safely meeting children's nutritional needs in their communities without worrying about burdensome regulations.”

Other parts of the waivers permit meals to be served outside of the typically required group setting and time. It also waives meal pattern requirements and lets parents or guardians’ pick-up meals for children.