Contributing authors: Stephanie Min and Hannah Schlueter
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced their free meal programs will continue until June 30, 2021.
According to Feeding America, food insecurity is rising in the United States. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 47 percent of American families are living with hunger, according to a report by No Kid Hungry. For Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) families, the statistics are even higher.
At the beginning of the pandemic, schools worked to adapt to this rise in hunger, providing meals to students even after they closed their doors.
In addition to grab-and-go meals, some school districts provided week-long meal boxes with items like gallons of milk or trays of lasagna, while others used school buses to deliver food, Karen Spangler, Policy Director of the National Farm to School Network, tells Food Tank.
This food was available to students who previously qualified for Free or Reduced School Lunches through the National School Lunch Program. USDA Area Eligibility Waivers allowed schools to provide food services regardless of whether students were previously eligible, explains Spangler. This reduced the paperwork and administrative burden on schools, as they did not have to verify each student’s eligibility before providing food.
On October 9, the USDA announced they will expand waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) throughout the entire 2020-2021 school year. While both programs are typically summer feeding programs, these waivers allow for meals to be served for free for the rest of the school year.
While the USDA waiver for SFSP and SSO was previously extended until the end of 2020, school districts, lawmakers, and activists advocated for universal school meal coverage for the entire 2020-2021 school year.
In Tucson school districts, this expansion has maximized their meal service. Lindsay Aguilar, Director of Food Services for the Tucson Unified School District, tells Food Tank they are currently providing grab-and-go meals at 67 bus stops. With the expansion of SFSP and SSO, Tucson schools have seen “an increase of over 1,000 meals” being served on bus routes.
“Accessibility to meals for many of our families and students is a real challenge and concern,” Aguilar tells Food Tank. “[This announcement] allows us to operate our meal service more efficiently.”
Photo courtesy of Isabella and Louisa Fischer, Unsplash