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USDA Announces Extension of Summer School Meals Programs Following Letter from Rep. Courtney and 84 Members of Congress

October 14, 2020
Press Release

NORWICH, CT – Today, Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-02) issued the following statement after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced late last week that free school meals programs authorized by the CARES Act would remain available to children through the rest of the school year, to June 30, 2021. USDA’s announcement came on the heels of a letter sent last week by Reps. Courtney, Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Ilhan Omar (IL-05), and 82 other Members of Congress urging USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to extend waivers enabling the implementation of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) program, and the waiving of the Area Eligibility Requirement for the entirety of the 2020-2021 School Year. Click here to learn more.

“I’ve stopped by several of our local school meal distribution sites in eastern Connecticut, and I’ve seen firsthand how much our communities have relied on the new flexibility Congress authorized for our Summer Meal Programs,” said Congressman Courtney. “Congress authorized these waivers on a bipartisan basis earlier this year, but the rubber has really met the road on the ground in our communities—the folks who are quarterbacking and volunteering at these distribution sites are the ones doing the work, and the bipartisan budget we passed last month would give them the tools and funding they need to keep it going. It’s good to report that USDA has acted on the new funding we authorized, and has extended these programs through the end of the school year.”

 Last week, Courtney joined 84 other Members of Congress in writing to Secretary Perdue to urge USDA to extend these programs. Specifically, the Members wrote:

 “We urge the Department to extend waivers enabling the implementation of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and the waiving of the Area Eligibility Requirement for the entirety of the 2020-2021 School Year.

 “As you know, the waiver authority provided by Congress and the resulting waivers issued by the Department have proven crucial for schools and non-profit partners to serve nutritious meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools adapting to completely virtual and hybrid plans, food service staff will undoubtedly need to rely on program flexibilities this year. Without the waivers, there will be lasting effects on the well-being and academic success of students. […]

 “On August 31, the Department granted an extension of these waivers through December 31, 2020. While we appreciate this extension and the immediate flexibility it provides, this is only a temporary solution that leaves school officials in need throughout the 2020-2021 School Year. […]

 “On August 31, 2020, you claimed that the Department may not have the funding to extend the waivers past December 31, 2020. We believe that the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337) removes any possible ambiguity about the authority or funding available to the Department on this matter, and therefore urge your immediate action to extend these waivers in the school meal programs.”

Click here to read the full letter.

In March, Courtney voted to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), which empowered USDA to offer schools flexibility so that they could continue to serve kids during unprecedented times. These waivers have allowed for needed innovation and flexibility such as allowing schools to deliver meals or offer grab-and-go meals; to offer free meals to all children through the Summer Food Service Program without additional paperwork; allowing parents or guardians to pick up meals without a child present; and more.
In September, Courtney voted to pass H.R. 8337, the Continuing Appropriations Act (CR) for Fiscal Year 2021. The CR extends USDA’s authority to provide this flexibility through FY 2021.