COVID-19: Nationwide Child Nutrition Waivers

COVID-19: Nationwide Child Nutrition Waivers

student in Norwalk with strawberry in the garden
Photo: Heather Peracchio

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to issue nationwide waivers to ensure access to meals through the child nutrition programs as communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and to issue waivers to increase cost. In order for a state to use a nationwide waiver, the state child nutrition agency must notify their USDA Regional Office that it elects to use the waiver. The guidance directs state agencies to inform local program operators of the flexibilities provided by these waivers as quickly as possible and to work in partnership with schools, local government agencies, private nonprofit organizations, and other entities that operate the child nutrition programs to provide accessible meals to all participants safely.

Prior to implementing any of the following waivers or providing meals through the child nutrition programs, schools and other program operators should receive approval from their state child nutrition agency in order to ensure that the meals served will be reimbursed. All of the waivers listed below are in effect until June 30, 2020.

·       Non-Congregate Feeding: USDA has issued a nationwide waiver to allow meals to be provided outside of a congregate feeding setting. Meals can be distributed at a site where families pick up the meals, as well as be delivered to children’s homes. USDA has provided additional guidance on meal delivery. The state child nutrition agency needs to sign off on the distribution model. In addition, USDA did not issue a separate nationwide waiver to provide multiple meals, but its guidance on Child Nutrition Program Meal Service during COVID-19 Outbreak gives state agencies the authority to approve methods that include meals for multiple days. The waiver applies to all of the federal child nutrition programs: School Breakfast Program (SBP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and Child Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

·       Meal Service Times: USDA has issued a nationwide waiver to provide flexibility to the meal service time requirements. The waiver applies to all of the federal child nutrition programs: SBP, NSLP, SFSP, and CACFP.

·       Activity Requirement in the Afterschool Nutrition Programs: The waiver eliminates the requirement to provide educational or enrichment activities when providing snacks through NSLP or meals and snacks through CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Program.

States that use one or more of the nationwide waivers must submit a report to USDA that summarizes the use of the waiver(s) and describes the role that the waiver(s) played in improving services to program participants.

These nationwide waivers are an important first step, but there are a number of additional waivers that are needed in order to ensure access to meals during this crisis. These include waiving the area eligibility requirement for SFSP and CACFP and any other eligibility requirements for SBP and NSLP that are necessary to ensure access. In addition, USDA can waive administrative requirements that create barriers to access, such as allowing flexible non-congregate models of meal service; administrative simplifications; suspending onsite monitoring visits and state audits; and reducing record-keeping requirements in CACFP, as well as the other federal child nutrition programs as needed. Until USDA issues these waivers nationwide, state agencies can continue to apply for them as state waivers, and advocates, schools, program operators, and sponsors should encourage their states to apply for them if they have not already.

FRAC will update this document as additional nationwide waivers are issued. For more information on efforts and opportunities to ensure children have access to nutritious meals during COVID-19 school closures, visit FRAC’s website.

Source: Food Research & Action Center