WASHINGTON — The US Department of Agriculture recently announced that it would extend its meal program to continue serving free meals to all children through Sept. 30, 2021. The agency previously stated the program would extend until June 30.

“We will do everything we can to make sure children get access to healthy, nutritious meals regardless of their families’ financial circumstances,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Our child nutrition professionals are doing a heroic job ensuring kids across the country have proper nutrition throughout this public health emergency, often times with limited resources.”

As part of the extension, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) can continue issuing waivers for its Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through Sept. 30. 

“USDA is committed to providing local operators with the flexibilities and resources they need to continue offering the best meal service possible to their children, given their day-to-day realities,” Vilsack said.  

The USDA said other parts of the waivers permit meals to be served outside of the typically required group setting and time. It also waives meal pattern requirements and allows parents or guardians to pick-up meals for children.

“Summer meal sites are places where children and youth age 18 and under can receive meals at no cost in a safe environment,” the USDA said, adding that the meals are also available to people over the age of 18 who have mental or physical disabilities. Distribution sites may be located in a variety of settings including schools, parks, community centers, libraries and churches.