On August 31, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it is extending nationwide waivers to continue the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through the end of 2020, or until available federal funding runs out. This is welcome news to ensure children can continue to access meals under all circumstances, particularly while most schools in the state remain closed for in-person instruction.
Additionally, this should help local educational agencies (LEAs) that have struggled with significantly reduced meal counts as the school year has started, challenging nutrition services departments that have had to transition from serving SFSP or SSO meals to serving meals that require verification of eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. The abnormally low meal counts are particularly problematic in the 2020–21 school year because of language in the Enacted State Budget that prevents LEAs from laying off nutrition services classified employees, requiring districts to retain staff while cafeteria revenues to support them are scarce.
The USDA was only able to extend the SFSP and SSO waivers until December 31, 2020 because it is relying on existing federal funds to extend the programs. The USDA estimates the remaining funds will be able to sustain the summer meal programs through the end of the calendar year based on current data. The department will continue to monitor circumstances and provide updates to Congress about available resources and limitations. Negotiations hopefully will continue at the federal level to provide additional resources to extend the summer meal programs through the end of the 2020–21 school year.
Previously, the USDA announced waiver extensions to allow non-congregate feeding, flexibility for meal service time, parents and guardians to pick up meals for children, offer versus serve flexibility for senior high schools, and meal pattern flexibility (see “By the Way . . . USDA Approves Waiver and Waiver Extensions for Fall” in the June 2020 Fiscal Report). These waivers are effective through June 30, 2021.
The USDA is expected to issue additional guidance soon regarding the SFSP and SSO extension to provide more details about any requirements that may be needed to implement the programs during this school year. In the meantime, the full text of the USDA’s announcement is available here.