By Patricia Jones, Task Force on Poverty
Area schools have been notified that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) would allow schools to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students through age 18. The Nebraska Department of Education held a statewide Zoom meeting on September 9 to share information with schools and directions on how to apply.
The program, called the Summer Food Service Program, is normally offered over summer break for students who may rely on school to have a meal every day. Alliance Public Schools relied on USDA funding for the free meals provided for all children through the end of June. The USDA made the decision to extend the program through the end of the 2020 calendar year due to hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding was made available for the program's extension by the CARES Act.
The plan is to provide free meals on school days from September 1 until December 31, subject to federal funding. Alliance and Hemingford Public Schools and St. Agnes Academy have all taken advantage of this program and are serving free meals to their students.
Students will still have to pay for second meals, extra entrees, extra milks, or ala carte purchases. The schools all indicated that they would maintain students’ meal accounts for these purchases, and that money would not be refunded. Alliance Public Schools and St. Agnes Academy are also issuing retroactive credits to those accounts for meals that had been purchased from September 1 until their school was approved for the program.
Enrolled students who are quarantined or who have opted for online learning are also eligible for free meals through the schools. Parents may phone their school’s office and make arrangements.
Alliance Public Schools runs buses between Grandview and Emerson so parents can drop off their elementary students at either location. Students can eat at either school, as the buses do not run before breakfast begins.
“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation. We want to ensure meals are reaching all children so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments.”
During this time of so much uncertainty, the programs the federal government is providing through the CARES Act, including free breakfast and lunch for all students, are making a tremendous difference in our area.