Texas - The Texas Department of Agriculture has received waiver approval to allow Texas schools to provide meals during COVID-19 coronavirus school shutdowns without compromising children.
According to a release from the department, the new USDA waivers are designed to loosen the federal meal program that mandates that parents must have their children present when picking up meals from the schools. This original waiver granted the TDA the flexibility to allow schools to provide meals even when they are closed as long as a child accompanied an adult.
"This will bring a huge sigh of relief for Texas parents," said Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. "We didn't want federal guidelines to put children at risk, or add any more burdens to their parents. In some low-income situations, parents were being forced to drive - or walk - all their kids up to a school to pick up a meal. There's no reason to put kids or parents through that. There had to be a better way, so we asked, and USDA agreed."
As current measures are in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, the TDA saw the requirement to have a child accompany the parent as an unnecessary risk.
The letter from the USDA allows the waivers to occur as long as the TDA provides a plan to maintain accountability and program integrity. The TDA did not directly address how they plan to maintain those stipulations in the release.
Another recent waiver grants flexibility for meal providers that may not be able to meet all the requirements mandated by federal law. For instance, if a provider cannot serve a meal with one of the required components: dairy, grain, protein, fruit or vegetable, as required by law, this waiver allows them to continue to serve the meal and be reimbursed as normal, said the release.
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"Normally, these regulations are in place to make sure children get the best, most healthy meal possible. But as schools and families struggle to adjust to this COVID-19 crisis, we will do all we can to make sure these kids get fed no matter what," said Commissioner Miller.
The TDA has requested over a dozen waivers from federal law to provide meal flexibility since the outbreak of coronavirus. According to the department, most of them have been approved quickly.
"My folks at TDA have acted quickly and smartly, as they always do for disasters like hurricanes or floods," said Miller. "I especially want to thank USDA for their swift response and excellent communications. They're getting us what we need when we need it. There's no question this administration and Secretary Perdue have made this a top priority."
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