Here's How the USDA Plans to Feed Children During the Coronavirus Pandemic
While many children are elated that school is cancelled until further notice, millions are having to grapple with the fact that they no longer have a reliable source of nutrition. More than 13 million children in the U.S. live in food insecure homes where there is not enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life. Thankfully the USDA has been working on a plan to ensure our nation's children will get the nutrition they need throughout this uncertain time.
The agency announced a feeding program partnership in response to COVID-19 earlier this week to deliver one million meals a week to a limited number of rural schools across the country. The USDA is collaborating with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, PepsiCo and others to provide students with five shelf-stable meals to take home each week.
A representative from the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service says this program will be based on best practices learned from a private-public partnership during a summer pilot program, Meals to You, in 2019. The agency is hoping to enlist and engage more partners throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to address hunger in additional schools across the country.
School districts can find out if they are eligible for participation in Meals to You here. Those with questions about getting their state involved in the program or the availability of these meals in your area can contact their relevant state agency.
Meals to You is one of several ways the USDA is seeking to combat child hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last week that schools with closings through June 30, 2020 could still offer meal service through proactive flexibilities that would minimize potential exposure to the coronavirus.
Additionally, all other FNS programs (think: WIC and SNAP) have built-in contingencies in case of national disasters or emergencies that allow them to respond accordingly. States are given automatic flexibilities that don't need USDA approval, which are listed below:
- In SNAP, state agencies can allow applications online (including via mobile app), by mail or telephone. They can also extend certification periods to the maximum available and can streamline the program by exempting households from certain requirements for good cause.
- In WIC, states may postpone certain lab tests for up to 90 days, extend certification periods for up to 30 days and provide up to three months of benefits in advance.
- In school meals and other child nutrition programs, states may combine operations from multiple entities to serve and claim meals at a centralized location and expedite approval of summer feeding sites that may operate during unanticipated school closures.
- In the food distribution programs, states have flexibility to adjust for the types of commodities provided in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and to provide deliveries to homes or other convenient pick-up points or allow participants to have a trusted representative pick up their food packages from the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) or the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).
Those interested in joining the effort to fight child hunger during this crisis can share their suggestions, ideas or contact information to FeedingKids@usda.gov.