School Meal Distribution Could Suffer as Critical Programs End

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended a handful of meal waivers for the upcoming school year, some programs are ending September 30 and without flexibilities, could make hamper meal service distribution for students.

The Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, combined with additional flexibilities, allowed most schools to open meal sites where families could pick up meals for children regardless of child’s age or income status. Programs are due to end September 30, or earlier if school districts begin their fall terms before that date, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has resisted extensions saying more funding and further authorizations are necessary.

From Education Dive:

“While we want to provide as much flexibility as local school districts need during this pandemic,” Perdue wrote in a letter to Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA, “the scope of this request is beyond what USDA currently has the authority to implement and would be closer to a universal school meals program which Congress has not authorized or funded.”

Critics have said flexibility is absolutely critical for food distribution and will reduce the administrative burden on schools and school administrators. Districts can continue meal distribution through the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs (NSL and NSB), but students will be turned away if they have not completed the proper paperwork or do not go to their assigned grab-and-go location.

If families have students enrolled in different schools within a district, they’ll have to pick up meals from separate locations, which can sometimes be far apart. With transportation an issue for some families, especially in low-income rural areas, this proved challenging in the spring and compelled principals and other district employees to deliver meals.

Families also won’t be able to pick up meals for younger siblings if they are not enrolled in the district. This is a departure from meal distribution in the spring, when some meal sites chose to distribute to everyone who needed a meal.

These standard programs are also facing a funding crisis as they depend on revenues from full-priced lunches, which have dissipated as many students are learning virtually.