School Nutrition Waivers 101 - Action for Healthy Kids
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School Nutrition Waivers 101

by Grace Perry, AFHK Program Manager and Registered Dietitian

As we know, our economy and food access have changed over the course of the past few months, greatly effecting the food and meal access for children. Assistance has been offered in a variety of ways and geared towards school nutrition programs, to help feed children. Have you been hearing the term “waiver” or “school nutrition waiver” a lot? Asking, what does that mean and how does that affect my family and students? Well, we are here to help simplify the term and explain how it works!

USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has granted nationwide waivers to address the needs of schools and families, in order to feed children during a time of crisis. These waivers vary in the area and program they impact, but serve a common purpose. They grant states significant program flexibilities to best serve program participants within the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service Program. The intention of the waivers are to waive certain requirements that have presented challenges, but maintain program integrity and provide meals, while also supporting social distancing and prevention of exposure to COVID-19. For example, a few of these requirements include nutritional standards for foods served, program compliance monitoring, and meal pick-up and site guidelines.

These are current waivers in place:

Non-congregate Feeding Waiver: USDA has granted a nationwide waiver to allow non-congregate feeding in the child nutrition program. This waiver will allow the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program, to serve meals outside of the standard group setting such as before or after school. Waiving the congregate meal requirements can ensure appropriate safety measures are taken while still providing meals and meal supplements, so that kids remain fed.

Meal Pattern Flexibility Waiver: USDA is establishing a waiver, for all states, of the requirements to serve meals that meet the meal pattern requirements. This waiver is effective July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. The purpose of the waiver is to support access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to COVID–19. This waiver applies to the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service Program. State agencies must report if they elect to be subject to the waiver. However, in order to participate under this waiver, local program operators must contact the state agency for approval and complete the process to utilize this waiver.

Parent/Guarding Meal Pick-Up Waiver: To continue to require children to come to the meal site to pick up meals may not be practical and is difficult to provide these meals along with proper safety measures. Programs such as the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), in a state with an approved waiver allowing non-congregate meal distribution during COVID–19 may distribute meals to a parent or guardian to take home to their children. As stated in the most current extension, the waiver for the Summer Food Service Program remains in effect until Aug. 31, 2020.

Area-eligibility waiver: This waiver will extend area eligibility waivers through Aug. 31, 2020 in order to continue supporting access to nutritious meals while minimizing exposure to the COVID-19. This waiver applies to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Seamless Summer Option (SSO). This will allow the operation of open-sites that are not located in “areas in which poor economic conditions exist”. This ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.

Pandemic EBT: Allowance of temporary emergency standards of eligibility and levels of benefits under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. Children who would receive free or reduced price meals are eligible under this provision. The household allotment amount will be no less than the value of school meals at the free rate over the course of five (5) school days for each eligible child in the household. The value of the school meals is equal to the Federal reimbursement rate for breakfast and lunch at the free rate, as specified by USDA.

Local School Wellness Assessment Waiver: USDA waives, for each state that elects, to follow a new triennial assessment deadline of June 30, 2021. The triennial assessment assesses the established requirements for local school wellness policies related to implementation, evaluation, and publicly reports on progress of local school wellness policies at least once every three years and to assess the LEAs compliance.

Waiver to Extend Unanticipated School Closure Options Written: Applications are still required for state agency approval for participation in Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option. However, submissions are not required by the June 15th deadline and there is now no federal deadline for summer 2020. State agencies may establish a deadline based on local conditions.

Waiver for First Week Site Visits in the Summer Food Service Program: Waives the requirement that sponsors must visit each of their program sites at least once during the first week of operation for sites that have operated successfully in the previous year and sponsors that successfully participate in the CACFP or the NSLP.

Monitoring Requirements in CACFP Waiver: USDA recognizes that suspending onsite monitoring is vital to support social distancing while providing meals. The following monitoring requirements are subject to this waiver:

  • CACFP sponsors may conduct two reviews of their CACFP facilities.
  • Only one CACFP facility review is required to be unannounced.
  • Waives the requirement that at least one unannounced review must include observation of a meal service.
  • Waives the requirement that not more than six months may elapse between reviews.
  • Waives the requirement that at least one review must be made during each new facility’s first four weeks of Program operations but allows sponsoring organizations to review new CACFP facilities as a desk audit.

Waiver of Annual Review Requirements for State Agencies in the Child and Adult Care Food Program: Waives requirement to complete CACFP monitoring on site through September 30, 2020. State agencies electing this option are encouraged to prioritize reviews of these institutions next year.

These waivers are nationwide relinquishments and state implementation will vary depending on the state. For state specific waivers, check you state’s active waivers specific to your state.for specific waivers within your state. If you are interested in learning more about the waivers your school district is utilizing, we encourage you to reach out to your school district leaders to learn more.

While school meal waivers are nationwide programming assistance and based on state approval, families looking to locate food access and meal support should check with their school, district office, or local food bank. Feeding sites are available for ALL children and community wide. If you cannot access this information on your schoo district website, call your district office, local food bank, or the National Hunger Hotline and they can help connect you to assistance in your area.