Giving Compass' Take:

• At harvest Public Media, Amy Mayer details the USDA's extension of programs for free school meals this fall in response to the coronavirus.

• How can we make sure free school meals reach every community equally? What are you doing to support students most impacted by remote learning?

• Look for resources to guide you in making free school meals more accessible for everyone during COVID-19.

As the new school year gets underway, some students are in classrooms and others are at home but one thing is now clear: all kids can get free school meals. That’s because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program, has extended the pandemic provisions it introduced last spring, which include eliminating the requirement that families apply for reduced-fees or free meals.

“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, legally and financially,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Districts welcomed the news, though Kim Belstene, the food service director at the Belmond-Klemme Community School District in north Iowa, says there’s one big caveat.

“They’ll be free until Dec. 31 or until funds run out,” she says. “So what if you continue to feed and then find out that, oh, they ran out of money in October and you fed through November?”

For now, the School Nutrition Association is claiming a partial victory, after lobbying for months.

“In this economy, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in food-insecure families. We know millions more kids will depend on school meals this year,” says spokesperson Diane Pratt-Heavner. She says whether in the school building or at home, kids can’t learn when they’re hungry.

“And this year we’re asking so much more of our students. They have to figure out distance learning or modified school day schedules,” she says. “We should not allow them to worry about whether they’ll get a healthy meal.”

Read the full article about free school meals by Amy Mayer at Harvest Public Media.