USDA Seamless Summer Option and Summer Food Service Program meal sites expanded earlier in 2020 than in 2019

This is a line chart showing the number of Seamless Summer Option and Summer Food Service Program open sites in 2019 and 2020.

Beginning in March 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic caused school and childcare provider closures, disrupting the distribution of meals through USDA’s largest child nutrition programs: The National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), and Child and Adult Care Food Program. In response, USDA expanded the scope and coverage of the NSLP’s and SBP’s Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The SSO and SFSP typically provide meals to children and teens in low-income areas during unanticipated school closures between October and April or when schools are not in session, such as during summer break. USDA waived these requirements, allowing qualifying organizations to serve free meals to children and teens in all areas throughout the year. As a result, the number of free meal sites open to all children as reported by States grew rapidly in the early months of the pandemic. At least 28,987 sites were operating in March 2020, and at least 31,347 by May 2020, well above the 6,254 sites reported in May 2019. In June and July of 2020, the number of reported free meal sites open to all children was lower compared to the same months in 2019. Although fewer free meal sites were reported as operating, more children received meals through the SSO and SFSP during June and July of 2020 compared with the same months in the previous year. This chart is based on data presented in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s 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, released October 12, 2021.

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