“In this time of crisis, with many grocery stores closed and other sources of food unavailable, USDA is committed to ensuring that our fellow Americans get the vital nutrition they need and is streamlining procedures to make that happen,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “President Trump made it clear to his cabinet that helping people is the first priority, and that process and paperwork can wait until later. USDA is already doing the work to help people in need today.”
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is working with officials in the affected region to help feed displaced and affected residents. The agency has granted several waivers in Texas allowing schools in the National School Lunch Program to provide free meals. It has also provided more flexibility to schools in what they can feed kids, given the challenges of preparing specific foods during this period.
“FNS works every day to ensure Americans have access to food, but it is during events like this that we have to be nimble,” said FNS Administrator Brandon Lipps. “Our job is to make it as easy as possible for our programs to be administered in a way that ensures no one affected by this disaster goes hungry.”
Steps already taken by USDA in Texas include:
• Approving a request by Texas officials to waive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations to allow program participants to buy hot foods and hot ready-to-eat foods with their benefits. FNS has notified authorized SNAP retailers in Texas of this waiver, which will be in effect through September 30.
• Supporting the state in its plans to shift the full SNAP issuance schedule for September to the first of the month so that families have access to their monthly benefits sooner during this time of immediate crisis.
• Allowing all schools in declared disaster counties to waive the National School Lunch Program meal pattern and meal service time requirements. This will allow schools to serve meals that do not meet the menu planning or meal pattern requirements for schools and child care institutions and facilities in the affected areas through September 30.
• Allowing all disaster affected schools to provide meals to all students at no charge and be reimbursed at the free reimbursement rate through September 30.
• Providing the state the flexibility needed to allow seniors who participate in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program in the service areas impacted by the hurricane to receive two food packages in September to make up for the loss of their August food benefit.
• Approving Texas to designate schools not directly impacted by the Hurricane to serve as disaster organizations and shelters so that USDA foods can be used for congregate feeding, providing critical food assistance to those in need. USDA Foods include a variety of canned, fresh, frozen and dry products which include fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grains.
Details of waivers can be found here. FNS is concurrently providing technical assistance to Louisiana and offering support as needed.
The FNS response efforts go beyond these programs. The FNS WIC program has policies in place to allow the state flexibility in program design and administration to support continuation of benefits to participants during times of natural disasters. With a number of WIC clinics damaged or closed during the hurricane, FNS held a conference call with Texas WIC State agency to provide this information and offer any other technical assistance needed to ensure WIC participants received help in obtaining food.
Although USDA food has not been requested as yet, FNS has coordinated with the Texas State Department of Agriculture to provide food deliveries to voluntary organizations as needed. FNS has determined the available USDA food supplies in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas in anticipation of requests by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide food deliveries.
FNS is also ready to support the state for other SNAP waivers that may be needed to support recipients who have lost food due to the disaster and to simplify the application process for affected households, as well as waivers covering Child and Adult Care Food Program sites and schools used as shelters.
In addition, FNS will provide infant formula and food to infants and children housed in disaster congregate shelters if requested. FNS can typically fulfill a request for these items 24-48 hours after receiving a request from the state or the FEMA.
In the coming weeks, at the state‘s request, FNS also stands at the ready to offer continuing food assistance through the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) – after commercial channels of food distribution have been restored and families are able to prepare food at home, Perdue emphasized.
To simplify program administration in disaster conditions, the D-SNAP application and eligibility process is shortened and streamlined. In times when D-SNAP becomes necessary, low-income households not normally eligible under regular program rules may qualify for D-SNAP if they meet the disaster income limits, which are slightly higher, and have qualifying disaster-related expenses such as loss of income, damage to property, and relocation expenses. Additionally, ongoing SNAP clients may also receive disaster assistance in the form of a supplement, when their benefits are less than the monthly maximum, to help replace food destroyed in the disaster.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which together comprise America's nutrition safety net. For more information on FNS assistance during times of disaster, visit www.fns.usda.gov.