June 12, 2020

Although most schools have been shuttered since mid-March, the official end of the school year is here for many states, which means that school districts and sponsors across the country are launching or fine-tuning their summer nutrition programs. These programs are designed to replace school breakfast and lunch, filling a nutrition gap that exists for thousands of low-income children during the summer months.

Expanding the reach of the Summer Nutrition Programs is more critical than ever as communities continue to respond to the impacts of COVID-19. While summer is historically a difficult time for those families that rely on school meals, unprecedented rates of food insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic highlight the importance of increasing access to sites that are serving summer meals.

Over the past three months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued many national and state waivers of program requirements to ensure that children are able to participate in the federally funded nutrition programs while still maintaining safety and social distancing. Recognizing that a return to traditional summer meals operations will be unlikely in many communities, USDA has extended several of these waivers through the rest of the summer, including those that do the following:

  • allow meals to be taken home, instead of consumed on site;
  • allow sites to serve in areas that don’t meet the area eligibility threshold;
  • allow parents or guardians to pick up meals without children present;
  • allow multiple days’ worth of meals to be distributed at one time;
  • allow for meal pattern flexibility; and
  • waive onsite monitoring requirements.

As a result of these program flexibilities and community collaboration, innovative summer meal programs are being implemented across the country. School districts, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, parks and recreation centers, and other community locations are stepping up to provide summer meals to children in a variety of ways, including delivering directly to homes, providing meals at pick-up or drive-through locations, or providing meals onsite where programming is possible.

This summer will look very different for many communities. Advocates and partners can help ensure that families are connected to the Summer Nutrition Programs during this time as communities continue to adjust to a new normal through the following strategies. 

  • Let families know how they can find meal sites in their community by sharing information on websites, social media, and across networks. USDA’s Meals to Kids Map lists available meal sites and hours of operation, and FRAC’s resource can help partners develop outreach plans.
  • Stay up-to-date on Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT), including whether your state has been approved to provide benefits to families. Once state P-EBT plans are approved, it is important that families are aware of the opportunity and have the information they need to access benefits quickly. P-EBT is an important complement to summer meals.
  • Work with sponsors and school districts to help them fully incorporate available waiver flexibilities, which allow them to reach more kids. An overview of the approved and extended program waivers can be found here.