The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), like other agencies across the government, has taken many actions in recent days to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Below we outline the various regulatory waivers the agency has issued to ease operation and ensure beneficiary access in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and school-based Child Nutrition Programs. Many of the flexibilities were newly allowable under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) (WHG summary).
SNAP – The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (WHG summary) provided an additional $15.5 billion to cover the anticipated increase in participation as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Additionally, USDA is implementing the following:
- Emergency Allotments – USDA issued Guidance for States on Emergency Allotments provided under the FFCRA. To implement the allotments, USDA will grant waivers to states that have also issued an emergency or disaster declaration. State-by-state waivers granted thus far are viewable here.
- Pandemic EBT – Pursuant to the FFRCA, children who would normally receive free or reduced price meals at school are eligible to receive assistance instead through electronic benefit transfer (EBT). USDA issued Guidance for States on Pandemic EBT, including plan requirements in order to receive approval.
- Adjustments to Interview Requirements – Under the FFRCA, FNS will allowing state SNAP agencies to adjust interview requirements, provided an applicant’s identity has been verified and other mandatory verifications are made. See Guidance for States on Interview Requirements.
- Waiver of Time limit for ABAWDs – The FFCRA temporarily and partially suspends the time limit for Able-bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWD) in the SNAP program. These work requirements were to become more stringent with the implementation of a final rule on April 1. USDA issued Guidance for States on Time Limits for ABAWDs.
- Flexibility for Quality Control Interviews – USDA is allowing states to conduct telephone interviews instead of face-to face-interviews for SNAP Quality Control purposes in March, April and May 2020. USDA has also offered states guidance on an optional 45-day extension on QC case reviews due in April, May and June 2020. States must notify FNS in advance if they choose to implement these flexibilities and must follow all other requirements as specified in SNAP.
WIC – The FFCRA provided the WIC Program with $500 million to remain available through Sept. 30, 2021 for increases in program participation. Additionally, USDA has implemented:
- Physical Presence Waivers – Under the FFRCA, USDA may grant waivers to states of the requirement that participants and applicants physically come into a WIC clinic to enroll or re-enroll, including the ability to defer certain requirements used to determine nutritional risk.
- Remote Benefit Issuance Waivers – USDA may also grant waivers to states of the requirement that participants physically come into the clinic to pick up WIC EBT cards and/or paper coupons.
- Food Package Substitution Waivers: USDA has provided Guidance for States on Food Package Substitution Waivers, allow states and Indian Tribal Organizations to permit appropriate substitutes for the types and amounts of certain WIC-prescribed foods if their availability is limited.
Child Nutrition Programs – Child Nutrition programs include the School Breakfast Program, the National School Lunch Program, and the Summer Food Service Program.
- Congregate Meal Waivers – Prior to the passage of the FFCRA, FNS was able (under its own authority) to approve waivers from all 50 states, DC, and territories to implement Summer Food Service Program and National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO), and to serve meals in a non-congregate setting and at school sites during school closures. FNS also issued guidance on meal delivery using existing authorities in summer meal programs.
- Pandemic EBT – Under the FFCRA, children who would normally receive free or reduced price meals at school are eligible to receive pandemic EBT transfers. USDA provided Guidance for States on Pandemic EBT.
- Nationwide Meal Times Waiver – FNS has provided Guidance for States on Meal Times Nationwide Waivers, which support access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to COVID-19.
- Nationwide Non-congregate Feeding Waiver – FNS has provided Guidance for States on Non-Congregate Feeding Nationwide Waivers of congregate feeding requirements to support access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to COVID-19.
- Nationwide Afterschool Activity Waiver – FNS has provided Guidance for States on Afterschool Activity Nationwide Waivers to support access to nutritious meals and snacks while minimizing potential exposure to the novel coronavirus.
- Nationwide Meal Pattern Waiver – FNS has provided Guidance for States on Meal Pattern Waivers for states to locally waive specific meal pattern requirements as needed to support access to nutritious meals when certain foods are not available due to the novel coronavirus.
- Nationwide Parent/Guardian Meal Pickup Waiver – FNS provided Guidance for States on Meal Pickup Waivers, which allow states approved for non-congregate feeding to waive the rule preventing parents and guardians from picking up meals for their children without the children present, as long as they protect accountability and integrity.
- Nationwide Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Data Waiver – Under Guidance for States on CEP Waivers, FNS is extending CEP election, notification and reporting and deadlines for School Year 2020-21.
- Nationwide Waivers of Child Nutrition Monitoring: In Guidance for States on Monitoring Waivers, FNS details its authority under FFRCA to waive certain onsite monitoring requirements for the school meals programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program, to maintain program integrity and support social distancing while providing meals.
Additionally, we would note that we anticipate that Democrats in Congress will again seek an increase in the benefit allotments provided under SNAP to each enrollee when negotiating the anticipated fourth aid package. In their initial draft of the third package (WHG summary) they had sought a 15% increase in monthly benefits and a benefit floor of $30 for a household of two.