Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue calling on him to extend several national waivers that provide schools with meal distribution flexibility, and to ensure all Pennsylvania children under the age of 18 have consistent access to breakfast and lunch as schools approach the 2020-21 school year using a variety of instructional models.
“Pennsylvania’s children have faced enough inconsistency and unknowns in 2020. These waivers are critical to ensuring school-aged kids don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” said Agriculture Secretary Redding. “We’ve got to provide them the necessary fuel to succeed. You can’t feed a hungry mind on an empty stomach.”
In 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a series of data analysis reports by Feeding America, the percentage of Pennsylvania children facing food insecurity will rise to 23.8 percent – up from 15.1 percent in 2018 – an increase of 57.6 percent. Many of these children facing food insecurity rely on the national school breakfast and lunch programs. However, like so many other school systems across the country, schools across the commonwealth are moving forward with a variety of instructional models that include blended (hybrid) or fully virtual learning. These deviations from normal operations present challenges for providing consistent access to food for an increasing number of children living in low-income households.
“There is a lot about the 2020-21 school year that will look different for our students,” said Education Secretary Rivera. “What shouldn’t look different is our commitment to ensuring they are provided nutritious meals to help them grow, learn and thrive. Pennsylvania’s education communities need these federal waivers to continue the important work of providing meals to our students.”
The letter to Perdue asks for the immediate extension of the several national waivers that will expire on August 31, 2020:
- Allow the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to be used to feed children during the 2020-21 school year. Permitting both schools and nonprofits to continue use of this waiver would significantly reduce administrative burdens, limit confusion of where meals can be accessed, allow meals to be provided at locations most convenient for families, and help to limit overt identification of children from low-income households.
- Expand the non-congregate and other approved waivers for the National School Lunch Program to the SFSP and SSO to allow these programs to be used to feed children when they are not physically in school. Extending these waivers will allow community-based nonprofit organizations to assist schools in meeting the needs of children at locations that work best for families, particularly on days when children are engaging in remote, virtual learning.
- Extend the Area Eligibility waiver for SFSP and SSO through the 2020-21 school year. Allowing feeding sites to provide meals in communities that do not meet the 50 percent free or reduced-price threshold for area eligibility has been essential to providing necessary food to children despite the uncertainty and stress that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Waive the Afterschool Activity Requirement for the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs available through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) through the 2020-21 school year. This waiver is critical for CACFP sites to be able to provide access to meals and snacks when providing the activity component isn’t otherwise safe or feasible.
- Allow those providing meals through the SFSP or SSO to also serve through the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs. While children receiving meals through SFSP or SSO are only able to receive two meals per day, USDA allowed a third meal to be provided under guidance issued through the unanticipated school closure waiver. This waiver was critical over the past six months in providing three meals a day to children in need of food assistance and will be critical to continue in order for community-based nonprofit organizations to replicate the meal options being provided by schools.
If families are having trouble affording enough food, assistance may be available through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides assistance to low-income and working Pennsylvanians, allowing them to purchase produce and groceries for themselves and their family. SNAP helps more than 1.9 million Pennsylvanians, including children, people with disabilities, older adults, and working Pennsylvanians, expand purchasing power to ensure their household has enough food to avoid going hungry. SNAP is issued through a monthly payment to an electronic benefit transfer card, and benefits are based off income and household size. People can apply for SNAP online at www.compass.state.pa.us online at any time.
“Programs and support networks like these exist to help all of us in the moments we cannot plan for – the times that an injury or an accident changes our life and sense of security as individuals, and the times that a global pandemic alters our daily life as a society,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “If any Pennsylvanian finds themselves needing help keeping food on the table, I urge them to apply for SNAP. We all need food to stay healthy, and during this public health crisis, no one should go without this essential need.”