Food and Nutrition Service
Q: What is the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) doing to respond to the COVID-19 situation?
A: The Food and Nutrition Service (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 receiving and reviewing requests from states for flexibilities on a continual basis. 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 the Food and Nutrition Service (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, signed by President Trump on March 18, 2020, allows USDA the ability to issue nationwide waivers to further increase flexibilities. FNS has issued several 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 like USDA’s partnership with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, and PepsiCo, which is providing meals kids in rural areas. For more information, please 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.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also provides states the option to 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 the State Guidance on Coronavirus Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) page. For logistical information about meal service, please 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 the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, the Food and Nutrition Service 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 novel coronavirus. Local program operators must contact the state agency for approval to utilize this waiver, and requests should be targeted and justified based upon 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 the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, and the additional funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020, provides FNS the ability to approve requests from states to allow sites to serve free meals to children in all areas, all of which are posted on the FNS COVID-19 webpage. In addition, some children are being served through innovative, community based approaches, such as the public-private partnership initiative USDA recently announced with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, and PepsiCo. For more information on options available in your area, contact your state agency and/or local school authority.