Members of the School Nutrition Association came together virtually last week for the SNA’s Legislation Action Conference. Attendees heard from USDA representatives and talked with their peers about COVID-19 best practices and the legislative actions they would like to see in the coming year. Here are three takeaways from the event.
1. USDA is extending school meal waivers
Early on in the conference, it was officially announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended summer meal waivers through the end of September, allowing schools to continue to feed kids 18 and under at no cost.
Recently confirmed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to attendees and said that the USDA is currently looking into extending the waivers through the next school year. “We hope to be able to make some decisions on that sometime in the month of April,” he says. “We'll be looking at this issue in great detail and we'll be providing more information.
2. P-EBT is expanding
USDA Acting Deputy Administrator for Child Nutrition Programs Sarah Smith Holmes announced that $10.7 billion in Pandemic-EBT benefits had been distributed to low-income families beginning last spring through the end of September 2020. P-EBT, which provides money to families whose children typically receive free or reduced-priced meals at school, was set to expire at the end of this September.
The latest COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by President Biden on Thursday will provide $5 billion in funding to maintain and expand the program to provide P-EBT to children during any school year in which there is a public health emergency causing access to school meals to be compromised.
3. Community partnerships will continue into the new-normal
During a session on lessons learned during COVID, school nutrition professionals shared the challenges they’ve encountered and best practices they’ve found in the past year. Brenton Lexvold, director of student nutrition services for Red Wing Public Schools in Red Wing, Minn., shared how he partnered with his local food pantry to provide food to community members in need, and how he thinks the partnership will last beyond the pandemic.
“Ultimately, I do see a partnership with them in the future, and hopefully we can connect school nutrition programs with our local food pantries to really try develop the food insecurities that our families are seeing,” he says.
Kristin Hilleman, foodservice director for Capistrano Unified Public School District in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., echoed his comments, saying she has worked with community partners such as the local library to hold book drives for students and families.