August Advocate: USDA COVID-19 School Nutrition Waivers

(THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

August Advocate: USDA COVID-19 School Nutrition Waivers

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the August 2020 edition.

As we’ve previously highlighted on the Leading Edge Blog, school leaders, nutrition directors, and advocates are beginning to sound the alarm on impending threats to districts’ ability to operate the federal school meals programs this fall. The current concerns are with the decision, by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture’s, Sonny Perdue not to extend or establish any new Family First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA) waivers/flexibilities for the 2020-21 school year (SY).  

Background: The passage of the FFCRA enabled the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to pass flexibilities and waivers associated with the federal school meals programs. Most notably for school districts, this work resulted in USDA’s (1) Unexpected School Closures, (2) Nationwide Meal Times, (3) Non-congregate Feeding, (4) Meal Pattern, (5) Parent/Guardian Meal Pick-Up, (6) Afterschool Activity, (7) Area Eligibility, (8) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) Parent Pick Up, (9) FFVP Alternate Sites, (10) Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Data, and (11) 60-Day Reporting waivers. Additionally, the passage of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act granted USDA the authority to create the Pandemic EBT program. A comprehensive chart of all of USDA‘s COVID-19 waivers is available here. Please note this figure includes a description and expiration date for each of the department’s previously mentioned waiver or program.

Although Sec. Perdue has elected to extend the non-congregate, meal service time, meal pattern flexibility, and parent pick-up waivers until August 31, 2021, at this stage in the game, it is clear that more extensions and flexibilities will be necessary for school districts to sustain their nutritional services next year. Specifically, this is the case because many students will not be in the building five days a week or have access to school breakfast and lunch each day, and districts are still in the process of establishing what “school” will look like next year. Therefore, to preserve the feasibility of school districts operating the federal meals programs, AASA is requesting the following policy changes from USDA. 

  1. Allow the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to be used to feed children during the upcoming school year, so that students may receive meals in the event of unexpected closures. 
  2. Expand the non-congregate waiver to include the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO), so that schools that choose remote learning may still serve students through the federal school meals programs.  
  3. Extend the Area Eligibility waiver for SFSP and SSO through the school year to enable districts to operate food services in communities that did not meet the 50% free and reduced-price lunch area eligibility threshold. 
  4. Waive the activity requirement for the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs so districts can serve additional meals through the Child Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and NSLP.
  5. Enable districts providing meals through the SFSP or SSO to utilize the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs.
  6. Extend the FFVP flexibilities and waivers through the school year, so districts can use innovative methods to serve fresh produce (e.g., multi-day servings and fresh-produce packs) and rollover unspent FY 19-20 dollars to the 2020-21 SY.

Considering the amount of time left on the calendar before federal legislators return home for the August recess, it is likely that the nutrition-related aid in COVID-5 will not be allocated in time for the start of the school year. As such, it is imperative that USDA grant the previously mentioned policy changes for the upcoming school year. We are facing an uphill battle on this issue because U.S. Sec. Perdue has insisted that he will not pass any additional flexibilities associated with the federal meals programs – in an apparent attempt to align with the Trump administration’s push to re-open schools. Although there are legislative school nutrition champions in the House - like Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY-7) who recently introduced legislation to extend the FFCRA waivers - it is anyone’s best guess to whether these provisions will be included in the final COVID-5 bill or when/if the next package will be signed into law. Accordingly, we urge you to stay tuned to see how it plays out and learn how to get involved. Regardless, AASA will continue advocating for these critical waivers and flexibilities.