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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

USDA Announces Summer Food Program Changes to Expand Nutrition Assistance for Kids in Need

Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon today announced that more low-income kids will have access to nutrition assistance when school is out and during critical gap periods. USDA's Food and Nutrition Service provided waivers to simplify existing regulations making it easier to provide critical meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The changes will expand and enhance the ability of the SFSP to provide nutritious meals and snacks to children in low-income areas during the summer months and long vacation periods for schools on year-round schedules.

"When it comes to our kids, we must do everything we can to provide them with the nutrition they need to grow up and win the future," Concannon said. "The changes we have made to the Summer Food Service Program will improve program efficiency and start to reduce unnecessary barriers for participation so that local SFSP sponsors who are on the frontlines of ending childhood hunger can provide nutrition assistance to those in need."

Waivers announced today:

Eliminate time restrictions between meal services, giving sponsors added flexibility. Sponsors will no longer be required to ensure that specific time periods elapse between meals or snacks when they schedule meal services at each site.

Extend the "Offer Versus Serve" option to all sites, replacing the requirement that meals be provided as a unit with an alternative that allows children to decline food items they do not intend to eat. This option has been successfully used by schools to help reduce plate waste and food costs in the school meals programs, and it has been available to school food authority sponsors operating SFSP.

Simplify requirements to conduct site visits during the first week of meal service operations for sites in good standing. This change relieves sponsors of the requirement to visit sites that have already demonstrated success in the program, so that they can target their resources to new sites and those that need additional oversight.

The SFSP delivers nutrition assistance to about 3 million children at sponsored sites which include schools, government agencies, residential and non-residential camps and faith-based organizations. The SFSP served nearly 134 million meals at eligible sites in 2010. In the near future, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service will issue additional waivers that will ease application rules for experienced sponsors in good standing, and expand meal site options. FNS will also provide guidance to highlight flexibilities that already exist at the state level to simplify and improve the delivery of nutrition assistance to low-income children during the summer months.

Simplifying SFSP regulations is part of a broader effort to feed more hungry children during gap periods when schools are not in session. Let's Move Faith and Communities is working with partners on the ground to host new summer feeding program sites at congregations or neighborhood organizations. Additionally, USDA also announced pilot projects to develop and test new ways to feed low-income children and reduce their risk of hunger during the summer months. Those pilots include the Summer Delivery and Food Backpack Projects which will operate in six states, the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children Demonstration projects in Missouri, the Extending Length of Operation Incentive Project in Arkansas, and the Activity Incentive Project in Mississippi.

Improving child nutrition is the focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The legislation authorizes USDA's child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program, the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The Act allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children, and help a new generation win the future by having healthier lives. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to end childhood obesity in a generation.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. These programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. Visit www.fns.usda.gov for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.

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