Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to extend child nutrition program flexibilities, including access to free meals, through the end of June 2021, regardless of whether in-school learning is available. Senator Collins called for this extension in August in a letter that was signed by 35 of her colleagues. The funding for the extension was included in the continuing resolution that Senator Collins voted for two weeks ago.
In Maine, 82,000 children rely on free and reduced-priced lunch programs during the school year, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated food needs across the state. Last month, the USDA extended access to free meals through the end of December, and the latest decision by USDA ensures this vital nutrition program will be available for the remainder of the school year.
“I am pleased that the USDA made the correct decision to extend several critical waivers through the end of June for students in Maine and throughout the country,” said Senator Collins. “This important extension will ensure children continue to have access to free meals, regardless of whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually.”
Senator Collins has strongly pushed to expand school meal eligibility during the pandemic. In March, she joined all four members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation in writing to USDA in support of providing flexibility around eligibility for free meals that was critical to maintaining children’s access to nutritious foods when schools closed last spring. In July, the Maine Delegation wrote USDA Secretary Perdue again to express their full support for a request by the Maine Department of Education for a waiver extension, which was successfully extended through the end of the summer. In August, Senator Collins, along with 19 of her colleagues, sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to continue utilizing existing flexibilities that have allowed students to access much needed school meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.