Food and Nutrition Service
Q: What is FNS doing to respond to the COVID-19 situation?
A: FNS is maximizing all program flexibilities and contingencies available under the law. We are working closely with states to best serve children and low-income individuals impacted by COVID-19 across our 15 nutrition assistance programs. FNS has been continually receiving and reviewing requests from states for flexibilities. As we approve requests, they will be posted on www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus. For more information about assistance available in your state, please contact your state agency.
Q: Where can I find out more information about nutrition assistance available during the national emergency?
A: The latest information is available at www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus, including a state-by-state breakdown of flexibilities available in each nutrition assistance program.
Q: What guidance does USDA have on food planning for families during the coronavirus pandemic?
A: Check out www.choosemyplate.gov/coronavirus for tips on food planning, including what to buy, how much to buy, and preparation tips.
Q: What is FNS doing to ensure children have food to eat while schools are closed?
A: States switch to their Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to serve meals to children when schools are closed. Through these summer meal programs, USDA allows sites to serve up to two free meals a day to children 18 and under.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) allows USDA the ability to issue nationwide waivers to further increase flexibilities. FNS has issued numerous nationwide waivers to make it as easy as possible for children to receive these meals. As a result of these waivers, schools and other sponsors are creatively feeding kids by delivering meals on bus routes, allowing parents to pick up a weeks’ worth of meals at a time, and entering into public private partnerships that have provided meals to kids in rural areas. For more information, visit www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus for a current list of approved waivers.
To find meal sites near you, visit www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids.
FFCRA also lets states provide EBT benefits to children who would normally be receiving free and reduced priced meals if schools were not closed due to COVID-19, known as Pandemic EBT or P-EBT. USDA has provided guidance to states on operating this program and continues to provide technical assistance to interested states. As state plans for P-EBT are approved, they will be posted on our website. For logistical information about meal service, contact your local state agency or school food authority.
Q: Can schools still serve meals while they are closed?
A: Yes. All states currently have a waiver in place that allows schools to serve meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or Seamless Summer Option (SSO) during unexpected school closures, such as the current national emergency.
Q: Can schools provide home delivery of meals?
A: Yes, so long as the school food authority has state agency approval, the necessary federal approvals, and adheres to all federal confidentiality requirements. For more information, see: www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/covid-19-meal-delivery.
Q: Can parents pick-up meals for their kids without their children present?
A: Yes. Under FFCRA, FNS issued a nationwide waiver allowing parents and guardians to pick-up meals and bring them home for their children.
Q: Can school provide multiple meals at once?
A: Yes. Schools can provide up to two meals and/or snacks per day (excluding lunch and dinner in the same day). Under the nationwide waivers currently in place, multiple days of meals can be picked up at one time.
Q: Do meals still have to meet the nutrition requirements?
FNS has provided a nationwide waiver for states to locally waive specific meal pattern requirements as needed to support access to nutritious meals when certain foods are not available due to the pandemic. Local program operators must contact the state agency for approval to use this waiver, and requests should be targeted and justified based on disruptions to the availability of food products resulting from unprecedented impacts of COVID-19.
Q: What about children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals but don’t live in an area where 50% or more of students qualify?
A: Typically, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) are limited to areas where 50% or more of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. However, the waiver authority provided by FFCRA and the additional funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allow FNS to approve state requests to serve free meals to children in all areas.
Requests and waivers are available on the FNS COVID-19 webpage.
In addition, some children are being served through innovative, community based approaches, such as public-private partnership initiatives. For more information on options available in your area, contact your state agency or local school authority.