Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Wednesday announced the Texas Department of Agriculture has received approval for waivers designed to loosen federal meal program mandates, which allow Texas schools to continue providing meals during the COVID-19 emergency. One of the most important waivers, according to Miller, will now allow parents to pick up meals for their children without the children being present.
TDA had already gotten approval from USDA to allow schools to serve meals even if the school is closed. However, under those guidelines, when a parent arrived to pick up a meal for their child, federal law required the child to be present. With social distancing, shelter-in-place regulations, and the threat of a spreading virus, requiring a child to travel to the feeding site was deemed an unecessary risk.
“This will bring a huge sigh of relief for Texas parents,” said 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.”
“This is another example of making sure federal mandates don’t get in the way of a child getting a meal they might desperately need,” said Miller.
Another waiver just approved by the USDA specifically grants flexibility to provide meals that may not meet all the requirements, or meal pattern, 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.