Feds approve several waivers to ensure all students have access to food

Written by: Stephanie Perez-Carrillo
Date Posted: May 1, 2020

In the last several weeks more than 800 feeding sites have opened across Colorado in order to meet the rapidly changing needs of Colorado students and families during the COVID-19 outbreak. Thoughtful actions and advocacy have meant that despite social distancing and stay at home orders, extreme measures are being taken to ensure all students have access to food.

Over the course of the past six weeks, the Colorado Department of Education and several other state agencies, in partnership with advocacy organizations, have requested and received approval for at least 10 waivers that impact students’ ability to have access to meals. Several are still pending. A few weeks ago we highlighted some of the CDHS waivers that impact the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which will not be covered here. This week we want to summarize the waivers that apply specifically to school nutrition and have been approved thus far:

  • Meal Service Time Flexibility: Waives meal service time requirements, which streamlines access to nutritious meals.
  • Meal Pattern Flexibility: Waives requirements that meals must meet meal pattern requirements. With limited inventories, there is anticipated shortages of certain meal components. The waiver allows alternative meal-serving models to best utilize available food inventories during emergencies.
  • Allow Non-congregate Feeding: Allows students to take meals away from the meal sites to be consumed elsewhere, thereby allowing for social distancing.
  • Activity Requirements in Afterschool Care: Waives the educational or enrichment activity requirement for School Food Authorities (SFAs) participating in the Afterschool Snack Program.
  • Allow Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children: Allows a parent or guardian to pick up meals for their children, as long as accountability and integrity of the program are protected.
  • Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Data Waiver: Extends the deadlines for reporting SY 2019-20 student counts to establish SY 2020-21’s identified student percentage for CEP
  • Pandemic EBT: Allows children who qualify for Free or Reduced-price meals, if not for school closures, to be eligible to receive assistance under this provision. USDA is providing guidance to state agencies on plan requirements in order to receive approval.
  • Allow Operation of Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or SSO by Non-area Eligible Sponsors: Allows SFSP and SSO sponsors in good standing to operate open sites in areas approved by CDE but that are not located in “areas in which poor economic conditions exist”.
  • Child Nutrition Monitoring: Waives certain onsite monitoring requirements for the school meals programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program.
  • 60 Day Reporting Requirements for January and February 2020: Applies only to claims for January and February 2020. Deadlines for these two claim months are extended for 30 days from their original required date of submission.

Several waivers are still pending federal approval. In addition to closely monitoring the waiver approval process, hundreds of advocacy organizations celebrated a federal court’s ruling that struck down the USDA’s 2018 school meal rule. The harmful rule would have scaled back requirements for sodium, whole grains, and milk resulting in tremendous implications for access to healthy and nutritious school meals.

The court ruled that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act and vacated the administration’s rule. Now that the unlawful rule has been struck down, the Trump administration is required to start a rulemaking process that follows the law in order to weaken the school nutrition standards.

The Children’s Campaign submitted comments in opposition in 2018 and again in 2019, when the rules were proposed and then finalized.

Click here to see a complete list of approved and pending waivers from the Colorado Department of Education. Click here to see the list of meal sites across Colorado.

Stephanie Perez-Carrillo

About Stephanie Perez-Carrillo

Stephanie works as a Policy Analyst for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign, she worked as a Public Policy Fellow at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado – where she found her love and passion for policy work. Before diving into the policy world, Stephanie served as a Teach for America Corps Member in South Carolina, teaching high school and middle school math. Early on while obtaining her degree in Marketing from Florida International University, she worked in health care as a Patient Advocate and Unit Secretary. When she is not working, you can typically find her at a coffee shop, hanging out with friends, or engaging in some type of outdoor activity.