This article provides information on the upcoming COVID-19 renewal deadline for free and reduced-price meal sites and summer meal sites, the Priority approval system for SFSP and SSO, and the Extension of COVID-19 waivers for school year 2021-22. You'll also find out about the changes in the eligibility requirements for free and reduced-price meal sites. Finally, you'll learn about the new priorities for SFSP and SSO.
Extension of COVID-19 waivers for free or reduced-price meals
The extension of COVID-19 waivers for free and reduced-price meals will come at a critical time. Schools are struggling to meet federal nutritional guidelines amid inflation and supply chain disruptions. Although the federal reimbursement rates will be lowered, schools can substitute vegetables such as carrots for the fruits and vegetables they cannot procure. Nevertheless, these waivers will not allow schools to raise the cost of school meals.
Several amendments have been made to the regulations regarding these programs. First, the waivers have been updated to include the School Year 2021-2022 and the CACFP operators. In addition to providing flexibility in the waiver, the state has removed administrative requirements for food service in schools during the pandemic. Second, the state has issued more guidelines for meal program operators to ensure that only eligible children receive free or reduced-price meals.
Second, the school meal programs will continue to function, as long as the federal government keeps the funding to operate these programs. The expiration of these programs will cause significant hardship for millions of students and their families. The expiration of the waivers will affect the funding for school food programs and may mean the end of free meals for many students. Further, the reduced regulation will allow school cafeterias to offer free meals to a wider range of students.
Finally, the expiration of COVID-19 waivers will put millions of students at risk of hunger in the near future if there is no action by Congress to extend them. The expired waivers benefited school nutrition programs across the country by providing universal meals to children who meet social distancing standards. The federal government is facing a narrow window of opportunity to extend COVID-19 waivers for free or reduced-price meals, but it has yet to be decided whether the new federal regulations will stay in place.
Extension of COVID-19 waivers for summer meal sites
In order to keep meal sites running smoothly, state operators must be prepared to meet special requirements in times of emergency. During a pandemic, programs must adjust their operations in ways that will not impact the safety of the meals they serve. The FNS expects that program operators will use the flexibility provided only when necessary. Those who are affected by the pandemic can apply for waivers that will allow them to meet varying requirements, and the program is expected to be flexible and responsive to changing conditions.
If the Federal government fails to extend these waivers for summer meal sites, the number of children enrolled will decrease by nearly nine million. Schools should consider this when choosing a program. The extension will also allow them to maintain social distancing protocols and offer meal services to remote learners. By granting waivers, schools are giving themselves a little more flexibility as they transition back to nonnal operations. Sponsors can focus on training staff and communicating the changes with families.
Before applying for a COVID-19 waiver, sponsors must submit an application to CSDE and receive approval from the state. Once CSDE has granted approval, sponsors must follow the guidelines to implement USDA flexibilities. The waiver process will begin soon, and CSDE staff will provide guidance. For now, state agencies are encouraged to review the information on this webpage. It will help them understand the process and the requirements for applying for a waiver.
Extending the Covid-19 waivers for summer meal sites will make free school meals more accessible to millions of needy children. The waivers were originally authorized by Congress and were designed to give schools more time to adjust and return to their pre-pandemic meal requirements. But the new law requires an extension of the COVID-19 waivers to help summer meal sites. The program should also be expanded to include meal sites in rural areas.
During the summer, nearly 95 million free meals could disappear. A lack of a waiver would impact the meals of seven million children. If these sites are not open in July, families in rural areas may be forced to drive far distances and rely on sandwiches to feed their children. Further, families in rural areas will have to pay a higher price for gasoline to get to meal sites. Some parents may find it cheaper to prepare their own meals, rather than send their kids to school without them.
Priority approval system for SFSP and SSO
A new system is allowing states to continue operating SFSP and SSO programs if local economic conditions are favorable. The new waiver also eliminates the need for pre-approval visits and enables state agencies to reimburse sponsors for meals served prior to written notice. The purpose of this waiver is to provide more nutritious meals for low-income students and families and minimize the risk of exposure to novel coronaviruses.
The SSO program is governed by a meal pattern that is similar to the National School Lunch Program. To request a waiver for a different meal pattern, schools must fill out a Meal Pattern Flexibility Waiver Request form. A school can specify the meals that they serve in a variety of ways, including a meal pattern that follows the existing age and grade-group meal pattern.
Once a state agency reviews an application for an SFSP or SSO nutrition waiver, it determines which sponsors should serve the community. The state agencies can reimburse sponsors for meals served before they are approved, but they cannot reimburse sponsors who were denied. Furthermore, state agencies may conduct a pre-approval visit if it deems it necessary. In these visits, state agencies assess the applicant sponsor's capacity to conduct a successful program and verify its information.
The SFSP and SSO nutrition waivers may be subject to a statewide extension. The waiver will allow non-Area Eligible SFAs to continue feeding students. This waiver is effective until June 2020, and the state will continue to use it for SFSP and SSO programs. The extension will be effective for the current and future SFSP and SSO sites only.
Under the SFSP, the state may distribute meals to low-income children and families. The SFSP requires that the meals are provided at a site where low-income children have easy access. To prevent identifying individual low-income children, the state should consider the type of meals provided. Moreover, the program can be run in a variety of education models. Therefore, a priority approval system for SFSP and SSO nutrition waivers must be established.
Extension of COVID-19 waivers for school year 2021-22
Extending the COVID-19 pandemic nutrition waivers for school year 2021-22 will help keep meal programs financially stable for working families and millions of students. These waivers were established to keep school meal programs afloat during the pandemic and to improve reimbursement rates for free meals. In January, the USDA announced a $1.5 billion grant to help schools pay for meal services.
However, if Congress does not act soon, the COVID-19 child nutrition waivers will expire. These programs provide universal meals to low-income students who meet certain social distancing standards. Their expiration would put millions of students at risk of hunger and poverty. And, with the cost of basic necessities rising, they would no longer be able to afford to buy school lunches. Without these school meal waivers, families may be forced to turn to food banks or seek other means to pay for meals.
The USDA has approved a number of COVID-19 nutrition waivers for the school year 2021-22. These waivers help CACFP providers serve nutritious meals to students. The waivers are effective through June 30 and should be implemented when necessary. But if your school district is unsure of when to implement these policies, please contact CSDE staff for guidance. You can also contact the USDA to receive more information.
The extension of COVID-19 nutrition waivers for the school year 2021-22 will help remove administrative burdens for school administrators and help schools recover faster financially. But as many parents are already worried about the impact of the pandemic, these waivers would be especially helpful. So, if you are in need of school meal assistance, this may be the best time to consider a supplemental lunch for your children.
The FNS recognizes that child care providers face unique challenges during transition. It is critical to make meals that are healthy and safe for students. They understand the operational constraints of child nutritionists. That is why they are offering targeted meal pattern flexibility. This allows for a transition of meals while meeting the COVID-19 meal pattern requirements. If the new model does not meet these requirements, FNS will continue to provide technical assistance to schools for the transition.