WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday it will extend free school meals to all children through the end of 2020.
“It’s for everyone, all kids regardless of economic abilities,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue explained. “All the kids everywhere — those who are attending school in person, those who are attending virtually.”
“This is a big deal,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
She has been calling on perdue for months to extend the program.
“When they initially said they were not going to continue that flexibility … I was very concerned,” Stabenow said.
Flexibility standards created by Congress to help families during the coronavirus pandemic were set to expire in September.
“It’s good news that they listened and that we’ll have this flexibility for children to have access to healthy meals at least till the end of the year,” Stabenow said.
But Perdue warned there’s no guarantee the cash will last until then.
“This data coming in from our schools and feeding sites are 60 to 90 days behind, so we’re making the best estimate,” he said.
He said if the money does run out, the program will again be restricted to families in need.
“We are legally not able to extend more than Congress has appropriated, so hopefully, we would not need to shorten that period of time,” Perdue said.
But for now, the program remains unchanged. Families can continue to pick up school meals or have them delivered to community sites.
Stabenow said she believes the USDA has adequate funding and that if the agency requests more money, Congress will work to keep the program afloat.