Hungry schoolchildren in Spokane and the rest of the nation got some welcome news Friday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Responding to the continued need during the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has extended waivers from federal school meal programs so that schools can continue feeding students affected by building closures.
Set to expire at the end of June or when the official federal public health emergency ends – whichever comes sooner – agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue extended the waiver to Aug. 31.
“As our nation reopens and people return to work, we want to continue to be flexible since there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to feeding kids,” Perdue said Friday in a statement.
“Extending these waivers throughout the summer ensures local operators can make plans that best suit their communities and keep children fed.”
That means a lot at Spokane Public Schools, where 57 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, and where meal distribution began soon after buildings closed.
“This is great news for us,” said Doug Wordell, director of Nutrition Services for the district, which has served 255,000 meals since March 19.
The district’s regular Summer Food Service program will begin on June 22.
“These waivers will allow us to continue serving meals at our existing 24 emergency feeding sites,” Wordell said. “This will give continuity and continued service for the children in our community.
“We will be looking to identify community partners who would typically partner with us on our summer meal program, but with all the unknowns the waiver extension will be a blessing to our community.”
The district is offering grab-and-go meals – a breakfast and a lunch together – for any child up to age 18, or currently enrolled in high school, from 11 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.
The waiver allows districts to continue serving meals outside the normal group settings in the summer.
Child and nutrition advocacy groups want the USDA to extend the waivers until Sept. 30.
They claim that Congress gave Perdue the authority to grant a longer extension under the COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Act signed in March by President Donald Trump.
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