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USDA helps with Harvey aftermath
September 22, 2017

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Many parts of the federal government are hard at work helping state and local officials cope with the massive problems Hurricane Harvey has created. While it isn't the lead agency for rescue efforts, the USDA is playing an important role in facilitating recovery from this immense natural disaster.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service is working collaboratively with state and local authorities in Texas and Louisiana to make certain the victims of the hurricane have access to food not only in the storm's immediate aftermath but long and after the initial emergency is over.

"In this time of crisis, with many grocery stores closed and other sources of food unavailable, USDA is committed to ensuring that our fellow Americans get the vital nutrition they need and is streamlining procedures to make that happen," said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a statement issued by the USDA at the end of August. "USDA is already doing the work to help people in need today."

Feeding displaced and affected residents is a priority concern. To facilitate that FNS has granted waivers in Texas allowing schools in the National School Lunch Program to provide free meals. The agency is also affording schools meal preparation flexibility because adhering to all the usual requirement is a challenge at the moment.

According to information provided by USDA, here are some of the actions the FNS has taken in response to the storm:

-Texas officials have been allowed to waive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program regulations to allow program participants to buy hot foods and hot ready-to-eat foods with their benefits.

- Schools in declared disaster counties are being permitted to waive the National School Lunch Program meal pattern and meal service time requirements. Temporarily they can serve meals that do not meet the menu planning or meal pattern requirements.

- Disaster affected are being permitted to provide meals to all students at no charge through September 30.

- Increased flexibility has been provided to allow seniors who participate in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program in the areas impacted by the hurricane.

- Texas has been allowed to designate schools not directly impacted by the hurricane to serve as disaster organizations and shelters so that USDA foods can be used for congregate feeding, providing critical food assistance to those in need.

Farm News applauds the prompt action by USDA to adjust its rules to make a fast and appropriate response to Hurricane Harvey's disruption easier. USDA officials have responded with wisdom to the special circumstances this storm has created.

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