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USDA Lifts Restrictions on New Jersey Schools Feeding Students During COVID-19 Outbreak

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will continue to provide school lunches through spring break this school year after New Jersey lawmakers’ pressed the case to the agency.

Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, along with Rep. Bill Pascrell were pleased the Trump administration agreed to keep the school lunch programs active.

“It is only by protecting our most vulnerable that we will emerge from this terrible trial as one state,” the three said in a press statement.

Providing Meals

The three lawmakers had requested the USDA waive the group setting meal requirement to allow New Jersey to provide grab-and-go service to students at a central site, which is a necessary public health precaution, and extend the program eligibility to participate in Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to all school food authorities (SFA) impacted by COVID-19 closures to provide meals to low-income students.

Additionally, Rep. Josh Gottheimer pursued USDA’s cooperation in this matter as well, lobbying the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to waive restrictions for the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch Program and SFSP.

Reimbursing Schools

“It has come to my attention that schools are now administering meals through the (programs) and that meals served under these programs during scheduled breaks will not be reimbursed,” Gottheimer wrote. “I ask…schools continue to be reimbursed for meals served through their spring breaks, given that students will continue to be home in light of this public health crisis.”

The meals are available at satellite locations set up across North Jersey with grab-and-go points for students and parents to pick up school meals at certain times of the day.

Food Bank Relief

Also, Menendez and Booker want relief for food banks in New Jersey. They cited complication at local food banks due to the USDA restrictions on food distribution to needy recipients during this quickly spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Food banks are currently required to collect detailed personal information from recipients, which Sen. Booker’s said strains already under-resourced staff and volunteers while endangering those same individuals—who often lack personal protective equipment—by prolonging their contact with a wide range of people.

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