Federal waivers would give students greater access to lunches in the summer

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The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) announced it’s going to request waivers in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to make access to school lunches easier for students.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a federally-funded, state-administered program. SFSP reimburses program operators who serve free healthy meals and snacks to children and teens in low-income areas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Inspector General recently found that SFSP waivers, previously approved by the USDA on a national level, must be requested by states individually.

The affected SFSP waivers – designed to help states and program sponsors efficiently operate their summer meals programs – were canceled effective October 11, 2018 and November 5, 2019.

As a result, Michigan has responded and asked the federal government to waive the following regulations for Michigan:

  • Only school food authorities may use Offer vs. Serve (OVS) in the Summer Food Service Program
  • Only school meal pattern rules to be followed when using OVS
  • Regulatory limitations on meal service times; flexibilities would be allowed
  • Only non-school sites may serve meals for reimbursement during unanticipated school closures

Offer vs. Serve (OVS) is an option that allows children to decline some foods they do not intend to eat at meals. One food item out of four at breakfast, or two food components out of five at lunch or supper, may be declined. The goal of OVS is to reduce food waste and to permit children to choose the foods they want to eat.

The waiver to remove time limitations will allow sponsors to serve meals and snacks when it’s best for the site and children present. Without the waiver, sites will need at least three hours between breakfast, lunch and snacks; four hours between lunch and supper; and no meals/snacks can be served after 8 p.m.

Many sponsors do not have that amount of time between meals to accommodate programming. If a site has programming for two hours and serves breakfast at 10 a.m. and programming is done at noon, the site would not be able to serve lunch until 1 p.m. at the earliest. With this waiver, children would not have to wait around for the meal and increase the number of meals served to children in Michigan.

Sponsors that participate in unanticipated school closure SFSP help ensure children do not experience a lapse in food security when extreme weather or other events force Michigan schools to close. Many of the sponsors that would participate in unanticipated school closure SFSP are schools, and their sites are schools where children would receive a meal. The waiver would allow any approved SFSP site to serve during unanticipated school closure SFSP, rather than only non-school sites.

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