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Agriculture Department extends Michigan waiver for school meals

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced Monday that it would extend a waiver allowing Michigan schools to use federal funding for key food programs to keep kids fed during school closures. 

The waiver, which was set to expire Monday, allows families to get meals on weekdays and weekends and allows parents to pick up the meals at one designated site rather than each child's school.

Schools have served roughly 80 million meals to kids through the waiver since the pandemic prompted the closure of schools statewide in March.

State Superintendent Michael Rice, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and the State Board of Education had asked Agriculure Secretary Sonny Perdue to extend the waiver. Perdue initially pushed back on the request last week, noting that the USDA had not been allocated the proper funding to extend the waiver.

Administrative staff helping pack take-home food at David L. Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School in March.

The extension granted Monday will give schools districts' flexibility through Dec. 31, or as long as the department can do so "legally and financially," the USDA said in a statement. 

"This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children — whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually — so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments," Perdue said. 

Rice praised the decision Monday, noting it will allow meals to be served outside group settings and allow parents and guardians to pick up the food. 

"We are delighted that Secretary Perdue heard the voices of those in Michigan and across the country who advocated for full flexibility in feeding our children," Rice said. "Given that the pandemic continues, the secretary’s decision to continue his waivers of the last six months, although delayed, is welcome and appreciated.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com