HARRISBURG, PA — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Education Acting Secretary Noe Ortega are commending U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for his proactive measure to extend several national waivers that provide schools with meal distribution flexibility.
Families across the nation and the commonwealth continue to face uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic, and this extension will ensure all Pennsylvania children 18 and under have consistent access to breakfast and lunch as school lets out soon for the 2020-21 school year.
“The USDA’s foresight to ensure that children have access to healthy, nutritious meals as Pennsylvania recovers and gets back to work is notable,” said Redding. “No child should worry about where their next meal is coming from, and no parent should worry that they can’t feed their children due to circumstances outside their control.”
In 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a series of data analysis reports by Feeding America, the percentage of Pennsylvania children facing food insecurity rose to 23.8 percent – up from 15.1 percent in 2018 – an increase of 57.6 percent. Many of these children rely on USDA child nutrition programs – like the national school breakfast and lunch programs – to help meet their daily nutritional needs.
“Continued access to nutritional food throughout the summer removes barriers and helps ensure kids don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” said Ortega. “I am grateful to the USDA for extending the flexibilities in these critically important programs, and all of our child nutrition professionals and community partners for their tireless work to serve and support kids throughout the pandemic.”
Last year, as the pandemic changed school learning models and families across the commonwealth were newly food insecure, the Wolf Administration had to advocate many times for these same waiver extensions. Now, Pennsylvania is getting back to work but many are still working to recover and get back on their feet. Officials state, as we work to come back from the pandemic stronger and more resilient, waivers such as these that recognize the continued need are critical to recovery.
The waivers – originally set to expire June 30 and now extended through September 30 – allow meals serviced through the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option to be made available in all areas at no cost; allow meals to be served outside of the normally required group settings and meal times; and allow parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children, including bulk pick-up to cover multiple days of feeding children.
Families who are having trouble affording enough food are encouraged to take advantage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides assistance to low-income and working Pennsylvanians, allowing them to purchase produce and groceries for themselves and their family.
SNAP helps more than 1.9 million Pennsylvanians, including children, people with disabilities, older adults, and working Pennsylvanians, expand purchasing power to ensure their household has enough food to avoid going hungry.
SNAP is issued through a monthly payment to an electronic benefit transfer card, and benefits are based off income and household size. People can apply for SNAP online at www.compass.state.pa.us or over the phone by calling 1-866-550-4355.
For more information on food security in Pennsylvania including information about resources and actions taken by the Wolf Administration, visit agriculture.pa.gov/foodsecurity.
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