The Texas Tribune: Students no longer need to be present to pick up free meals from schools

Leander ISD child nutrition services employees carry out a table of lunches at Bagdad Elementary School in Leander on March 25. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)
Leander ISD child nutrition services employees carry out a table of lunches at Bagdad Elementary School in Leander on March 25. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)

Leander ISD child nutrition services employees carry out a table of lunches at Bagdad Elementary School in Leander on March 25. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)

After pleas from Texas school superintendents and lawmakers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 25 granted school districts more flexibility on how and what they feed students in free and reduced-price meals while schools are temporarily closed statewide due to the new coronavirus.

The Texas Department of Agriculture, which administers the federally funded school meal programs, had already received a federal waiver allowing school districts to hand out curbside breakfasts and lunches to parents who show up. But until Wednesday night, the law required parents to bring their children with them to prove they qualify for school meals — which educators and lawmakers argue contradicts public health recommendations during the crisis.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, who chairs the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee, co-signed a letter this week asking the TDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture to give school districts more flexibility on that requirement.

"That could spell trouble if a child is sick with COVID-19 and unable to show up," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "And in rural districts, some families rely on lengthy bus rides to get to the nearest school, which may also prove to be infeasible for working families when the school buses aren't running anymore."

The letter also asks officials to loosen nutrition guidelines as many school districts struggle to get shipments of food staples in bulk.


The TDA applied for and received federal waivers allowing school districts flexibility on both restrictions this week. Texas school districts will be reimbursed for free or reduced-price meals given to parents even if children are not present, as long as the TDA comes up with a plan to ensure the food is going to the right recipients.

"It's legally complicated because you need to make sure that a child is actually receiving that meal. These are child nutrition programs and so we give them to children," said Angela Olige, TDA's assistant commissioner of food and nutrition.

In a recent letter to school superintendents, the TDA acknowledged the challenge districts face if they are unable to serve meals to parents without children in tow. "USDA is aware of this national issue and is exploring ways to provide additional meal delivery flexibilities," the letter reads. "However, USDA has conveyed that meal service via a Grab-n-Go delivery methodology is very problematic when children are not present."

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who oversees the TDA, said that under normal conditions, the rule would prevent people from "cheating the system" and taking food even if they don't have children. But now, "you got a parent walking several blocks to the feeding center ... taking four kids with them to get their breakfast and their lunch and then walking back. Well, this is a pandemic. We don't need kids walking up the street."

This story was written and reported by Aliyya Swaby of The Texas Tribune.


MOST RECENT

Austin ISD and other districts in Central Texas are waiting for further TEA guidance on mask requirements. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Austin ISD, other Central Texas school districts await TEA guidance on updated mask mandates

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced March 2 that mask mandates and business capacity restrictions will be lifted in Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced March 2 that mask mandates and business capacity restrictions will be lifted in Texas. (Courtesy Office of the Texas Governor)
Gov. Greg Abbott lifts statewide mask mandate, business restrictions in Texas

With vaccine distribution increasing, Gov. Greg Abbott said "people and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate." Some local officials are pushing back, saying the relaxed restrictions are coming too early.

The Candlewood Suites hotel is located at 10811 Pecan Park Blvd. (Courtesy Google Maps)
Williamson County hires San Antonio law firm in Austin hotel for homeless housing

Williamson County has not yet taken any formal legal action.

water faucet
Cedar Park looks at utility billing adjustments due to winter storm

Cedar Park is looking to temporarily adjust some utility billing policies and fees.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County COVID-19 dashboard returns: 1,108 new cases reported between Feb. 13-March 1

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from Williamson County.




Ice covered utility lines across Austin. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
SHARE YOUR STORY: How did you survive the Texas freeze?

We want to hear how the winter storms affected you.

Williamson County distributors are expected to receive 20,000 COVID-19 vaccines the week of March 1. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Williamson County distributors to receive 20,000 COVID-19 vaccines week of March 1

This is the largest number of weekly doses distributors in the county has collectively received.

Tarvin Elementary School construction
New Leander ISD rezoning to reduce crowding at Parkside, Pleasant Hill elementary schools

The new attendance zoning will take effect in August when Tarvin Elementary, the district's 28th elementary school, opens.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

H-E-B will open a new location in the Oak Hill neighborhood of Southwest Austin in August. (Rendering courtesy H-E-B)
H-E-B to open in Oak Hill in Aug.; comedy club coming to The Domain and more news from February

Read business and community news from the past month from Central Texas.