“To reach hungry children this summer with the food they need, we must extend these nationwide waivers through September, and we must do it now,” says Davis.

Contact: Meredith Jorss, mjorss@strength.org

Washington, DC – The coronavirus has caused a catastrophic health crisis around the globe. It also is creating an economic crisis that will push millions of families with children into poverty and hunger here in the United States. Summer meals programs run by school districts and local organizations help feed children when schools are closed, but these programs will be unable to reach kids with the food they need without the program flexibilities provided by the nationwide child nutrition waivers which are set to expire in June.

The following is a statement from Share Our Strength’s Senior Vice President Lisa Davis, calling on the USDA to extend all nationwide child nutrition waivers through September 30, 2020 so communities are able to fight childhood hunger this summer. 

“Communities across the United States are facing a new crisis in midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: summer hunger.

Summer is already one of the hungriest times of the year for many kids as they lose access to free and low-cost school meals. This year, the need will be even greater, as the COVID-19 crisis has pushed millions of families into poverty and hunger. In the last six weeks, more than 30 million people joined the ranks of the unemployed in this nation. And recent estimates show that as many as 1 in 4 kids could struggle with hunger in the aftermath of this crisis.

Summer meals programs, funded by the USDA and run by school districts and local organizations, help feed children when schools are closed, but this year, these programs face massive obstacles. By law, these programs operate as “congregate feeding models,” meaning kids must gather together and eat in a group. This poses multiple safety and health concerns for children, families, and the staff and volunteers who work these programs.

And even as states begin loosening shelter-in-place requirements, it won’t be business-as-usual for schools and community organizations trying to reach hungry children. Many of the usual places to reach children – summer school, day camps, library programs – won’t be operating as usual.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act gave the USDA the authority to issue nationwide child nutrition waivers, allowing school districts and community providers necessary flexibility to operate meals service during a pandemic. These waivers were invaluable over the past few weeks, making it possible for communities to adapt programs and continue to feed children during these uncertain times, but that’s about to change.

These nationwide waivers are set to expire at the end of June, at the height of summer meals service. Without them, many schools and community organizations will not be able to reach children during the summer months.

To reach hungry children this summer with the food they need, we must extend these nationwide waivers through September, and we must do it now.

The schools and organizations that run these meals programs are currently trying to establish sites, place food orders, coordinate and train their staff, and alert families in need about how and where to find programs. If the nationwide waivers expire, the rules would change mid-summer, making summer meals twice as hard to run at a time when need has skyrocketed; this will lead to programs shutting down. Extending the nationwide waivers now allows school districts and local organizations the time and tools they need to make plans to reach more kids and ensure they are consistently getting the food they need.