By Weston Blasi
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlined a plan on Tuesday to extend the free school-lunch program for every K-12 student to the spring of 2022.
The program being extended is the USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO) which traditionally was only available during summer months.
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“Students’ success in the classroom goes hand in hand with their ability to access basic needs like healthy and nutritious meals,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement . “It’s critical that our efforts to reopen schools quickly and safely include programs that provide access to free, healthy meals for our most vulnerable students, particularly those whose communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic. This program will ensure more students, regardless of their educational setting, can access free, healthy meals as more schools reopen their doors for in-person learning.”
A similar program extension was executed early last year by the Trump administration as the COVID-19 pandemic moved through the U.S.
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The extension of the program and its flexibilities will manifest in a few ways. Details, according to the government-run USDA, are as follows:
Free meals in all areas and at no cost
Meals can be served outside of the typically required group settings and times
Waivers for meal pattern requirements as necessary
Parents and guardians are now able to pick up meals for their children
“USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement . “This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids. It’s a win-win for kids, parents and schools.”