Administrative Publication No. (AP-093) 20 pp

October 2021

COVID-19 Working Paper: Filling the Pandemic Meal Gap: Disruptions to Child Nutrition Programs and Expansion of Free Meal Sites in the Early Months of the Pandemic

Beginning in March 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic struck the United States abruptly and unexpectedly, forcing the school and childcare center closures nationwide. These closures disrupted the provision of meals to children through the largest of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) child nutrition programs. In response, USDA issued a series of waivers to facilitate the continued provision of meals to children while prioritizing the health and safety of communities. This study assesses the extent to which the child nutrition infrastructure was able to rapidly adapt to meet the needs of children at the onset of the crisis. It documents disruptions in the provision of meals through the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Child and Adult Care Food Program from March through May 2020. In addition, this report examines the extent waivers allowed for greater flexibility in the implementation of these programs and the expansion of free meal sites helped to compensate for these disruptions.

Errata: On November 4, 2021, text on page 6 describing the increase in the number of meals served through the Summer Food Service Program from March through May 2020 as compared to the same period was revised to reflect the correct change. No figures or tables were impacted.

Errata: On February 22, 2022, figure 3 was revised to correctly label Summer Food Service Program Meals in fiscal year 2020 and Free Meal Sites. No text or other figures were impacted.

Keywords: COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, child nutrition programs, National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Seamless Summer Option, Summer Food Service Program, free meals

In this publication...