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USDA Extends Waiver That Makes Free Grab-And-Go Meals Available To More Kids

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that it will extend policies to ensure more hungry kids have access to free meals during the school campus closures, through December 31, "or until available funding runs out."

Here's why: after campuses closed in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, schools and districts around Southern California switched up their food operations and handed out millions of free meals.

They were able to do so because of temporary waivers from the USDA, which heads up school nutrition programs.

Those waivers gave a lot of schools and districts flexibility to distribute free meals to any kid who asked for one, even if they didn't qualify for free lunch through school nutrition programs, which are based on need. These meals were provided grab-and-go.

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Those waivers were set to expire as the new school year approached.

And school nutrition advocates had worried that if they weren't extended, fewer hungry kids would be able to get meals – and there’d be more confusion at distribution sites.

We spoke with local districts and schools about these concerns earlier this month.

Now the USDA has officially agreed to extend those waivers through the end of 2020.

California School Nutrition Association Public Policy and Legislation Chair Kristin Hilleman, who also heads up food and nutrition for Capistrano Unified, called the announcement "much needed good news."

Advocates were hoping the flexibilities would continue through the end of the school year in 2021, but in a statement the USDA pointed the blame at Congress, saying there's not enough funding to do that.


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