Schools offer free meals to students until June 2021

MASSENA — A waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is allowing school districts to continue serving meals at no charge to all students until June 30, 2021, the end of the 2020-21 school year.

The waiver, which began last school year with the onset of the coronavirus and a switch to remote learning, was set to expire on Dec. 31.

“The Department of Agriculture did extend summer meal waivers for the entire year. What was going to happen, it would end on Dec. 31. Any child can receive a free meal. They don’t have to be free and reduced lunch,” Massena Central School Superintendent Patrick Brady said.

Earlier this month, Congress passed a continuing resolution bill that granted authority and funding for further extensions, which was later signed into law. The School Nutrition Association had been advocating for the waiver extensions, saying that they were vital for students and their families who may be struggling with food insecurity due to COVID-19.

The waiver for breakfast and lunch is good for all students, whether they’re learning in-person or remotely. It allows the district to continue serving Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option meals at no cost, and permits meals to be served outside of the typically-required group settings and meal times. In addition, parents and guardians are allowed to pick up meals for their children.

Breakfast and lunch meal packs in Massena are distributed from 11 a.m. to noon Mondays at each of the district’s five school buildings. Meals are distributed curbside, following the practice that was used last spring and during the summer.

Meal prices for the 2020-21 school year were set to be $2.55 for elementary lunches and $2.65 for junior high and high school lunches. There was no change in the reduced price breakfast and lunch (25 cents) or the full student price of breakfast ($1.20).

Under the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act, districts are required to raise lunch prices over time to close the gap between the revenues they receive for paid meals versus free meal revenues. The increase must be a minimum of 10 cents.

“These waiver extensions are great news for America’s students and the school nutrition professionals working so hard to support them throughout this pandemic,” School Nutrition Association President Reggie Ross said in a statement.

“Families struggling to make ends meet can be assured that their students will have access to healthy school meals, whether they are learning at home or in school. School meal programs can remain focused on safely meeting nutritional needs of children in their communities without having to worry about burdensome regulations,” he said.

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