The U.S. Department of Agriculture is allowing summer meal program operators to continue serving free meals to children for this whole school year. The decision ensures children will have access to food as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release.

The waivers allow two meal-serving programs, Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Option, to reach children, regardless of who they are or where they live. The free program also permits parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children. And, they will be able to feed their children beyond the program’s normal times.

Over the past six months, the USDA and its partners have opened nearly tens of thousands of sites across the country, offering a higher reimbursement rate than in the traditional school year while using congressionally appropriated funding. By recalculating its remaining funds, the food and nutrition arm of the USDA determined that it could continue the waivers and provide food for children through the end of the 2021 school year, as Congress did not authorize enough funding.

The announcement was met with relief from the School Nutrition Association members.

SNA’s Chris Burkhardt, executive director of School Nutrition for Cleveland Metropolitan School District in Ohio, said, “With these waivers we will be able to speed up meal distribution for the safety of staff and families and ensure no student is denied access to healthy meals.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the food and nutrition service has worked to get kids food beyond the normal classroom setting. Along with making 3,000 programs more flexible, USDA has also created public-private partnerships that have delivered nearly 40 million meals directly to the homes of low-income, rural children. This is the second time since the start of this school year that these programs have been extended.

Said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue: “We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school food service professionals, year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation.”