FNS Frequently Asked Questions
USDA is granting states significant program flexibilities and contingencies to best serve program participants across our 15 nutrition programs.
- What is the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) doing to respond to the COVID-19 situation?
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is maximizing all program flexibilities and contingencies available under the law. We are working closely with states to best serve children and low-income individuals impacted by COVID-19 across our 15 nutrition assistance programs. FNS has been receiving and reviewing requests from states for flexibilities on a continual basis. As we approve requests, they will be posted on www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus. For more information about assistance available in your state, please contact your state agency.
- Where can I find out more information about nutrition assistance available during the national emergency?
The latest information is available at www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus, including a state-by-state breakdown of flexibilities available in each nutrition assistance program.
- What guidance does USDA have on food planning for families during the coronavirus pandemic?
Check out www.choosemyplate.gov/coronavirus for tips on food planning, including what to buy, how much to buy, and preparation tips.
- What is the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) doing to ensure children have food to eat while schools are closed?
States switch to their Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to serve meals to children when schools are closed. Through these summer meal programs, USDA allows sites to serve up to two free meals a day to children 18 and under.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed by President Trump on March 18, 2020, allows USDA the ability to issue nationwide waivers to further increase flexibilities. FNS has issued several nationwide waivers to make it as easy as possible for children to receive these meals. As a result of these waivers, schools and other sponsors are creatively feeding kids by delivering meals on bus routes, allowing parents to pick up a weeks’ worth of meals at a time, and entering into public private partnerships like USDA’s partnership with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, and PepsiCo, which is providing meals kids in rural areas. For more information, please visit www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus for a current list of approved waivers. To find meal sites near you, visit www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also provides states the option to provide EBT benefits to children who would normally be receiving free and reduced priced meals if schools were not closed due to COVID-19, known as Pandemic EBT or P-EBT. USDA has provided guidance to states on operating this program and continues to provide technical assistance to interested states. For logistical information about meal service, please contact your local state agency or school food authority.
- Can schools still serve meals while they are closed?
Yes. All states currently have a waiver in place that allows schools to serve meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or Seamless Summer Option (SSO) during unexpected school closures, such as the current national emergency.
- Can schools provide home delivery of meals?
Yes, so long as the school food authority has state agency approval, the necessary federal approvals, and adheres to all federal confidentiality requirements. For more information, see: www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/covid-19-meal-delivery.
- Can parents pick-up meals for their kids without their children present?
Yes. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, the Food and Nutrition Service issued a nationwide waiver allowing parents and guardians to pick-up meals and bring them home for their children.
- Can school provide multiple meals at once?
Yes. Schools can provide up to two meals and/or snacks per day (excluding lunch and dinner in the same day). Under the nationwide waivers currently in place, multiple days of meals can be picked up at one time.
- Do meals still have to meet the nutrition requirements?
FNS has provided a nationwide waiver 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. Local program operators must contact the state agency for approval to utilize this waiver, and requests should be targeted and justified based upon disruptions to the availability of food products resulting from unprecedented impacts of COVID-19.
- What about children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals but don’t live in an area where 50% or more of students qualify?
Typically, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO)are limited to areas where 50% or more of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. However, the waiver authority provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, and the additional funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020, provides FNS the ability to approve requests from states to allow sites to serve free meals to children in all areas, all of which are posted on the FNS COVID-19 webpage. In addition, some children are being served through innovative, community based approaches, such as the public-private partnership initiative USDA recently announced with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, and PepsiCo. For more information on options available in your area, contact your state agency and/or local school authority.
- If my financial situation has changed due to the coronavirus, could I be eligible for SNAP?
- What is USDA doing to promote social distancing in SNAP?
The Food and Nutrition Service has allowed SNAP flexibilities to reduce the need for face-to-face contact. For example, USDA is allowing states to conduct SNAP quality control interviews by telephone instead of in person. USDA has also offered states an optional 45-day extension on certain quality control case reviews.
- Can SNAP participants order groceries online?
The SNAP online pilot is currently operational in Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Washington State, with Nebraska having joined the pilot on April 1, 2020. Maryland and New Jersey remain non‐operational pilot states. The authorized retailers working with all pilot states are Amazon and Walmart, while Wrights Market and ShopRite are working with Alabama and New York, respectively. Dash’s Market, Fresh Direct, Hy‐Vee, and Safeway are authorized retailers, which are not currently operational. To learn more about the pilot, please visit: www.fns.usda.gov/snap/online-purchasing-pilot.
Though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is receiving interest to expand the SNAP online pilot program, the responsibility is on state agencies, their third-party processor, and any retailers who wish to participate. To ease the process, FNS put together a simplified template for states who wish to enter the online pilot which is provided as an attachment to this letter. States and their respective entities are already facing capacity issues with the COVID-19 response, and FNS continues to provide significant technical assistance to interested states to ensure that plans are thorough and appropriate preliminary testing is conducted. If not done properly and judiciously, there is a risk to the state’s entire benefit system. In each state, its EBT processor and retailers present their own mix of challenges. So, FNS is providing customer service based on each of their specific needs.
FNS will continue to work with interested states in advancing their participation in this pilot. Until states are prepared to operate the pilot, USDA recommends states utilize other options that retailers may already provide, such as Pay at Pick-up (also known as “Click and Collect”), where SNAP cardholders can shop online and then pay for their purchase using their EBT card at pick-up. Grocery pick-up is already an option that these retailers offer beyond SNAP so they are already thinking through how they can provide a safe environment to do so with the growing concerns around social distancing.
During these challenging times, FNS is working hand-in-hand with state program leadership, to provide support and guidance to adapt to the challenges of this public health emergency. USDA intends to use available program flexibilities and contingencies to continue to serve our program participants. For up to date information and to learn more about flexibilities being used in FNS nutrition programs, please visit our website at www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus.
- What happens to SNAP recipients who can’t meet the work requirements due to the coronavirus outbreak?
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, USDA has suspended the work requirements (PDF, 359 KB) for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) throughout the national emergency. Therefore, the time limit does not apply, and these individuals can continue to receive SNAP benefits.
- How can I protect myself from SNAP fraud during the pandemic?
The Food and Nutrition Service is aware of some fraud scams trying to take advantage of the current emergency to obtain SANP recipients’ confidential information, such as a social security number, bank information, or a participant’s SNAP EBT card number. If you are unsure if a request for information is legitimate, contact your local SNAP office. To stay on top of potential scams, please visit USDA’s SNAP scam alert webpage at www.fns.usda.gov/snap/scam-alerts.
- What happens if grocery stores are out of the specific food items WIC participants are allowed to purchase due to the COVID-19 situation?
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, is designed to supplement the diets of participants to address certain nutritional needs. As a result, WIC purchases must be of foods approved by their state. However, states have the flexibility to modify their WIC-approved foods lists at any time to include any foods that meet federal standards. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, states can request additional food package flexibility from USDA. USDA has been expeditiously approving state requests to allow for additional substitution options if availability of certain WIC-prescribed foods is limited. Please visit our website for more information on approved waivers for food package substitutions: www.fns.usda.gov/wic/food-package-substitution-waiver.
- What is USDA doing to promote social distancing in WIC?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, allows USDA to minimize face-to-face interaction in WIC by reducing required visits to the clinic through a variety of waivers provided to state agencies and Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) upon request. Under the Act, states must request approval from the Food and Nutrition Service to temporarily waive the in-person requirements for enrolling/reenrolling for WIC and picking up WIC benefits. The Act also allows states to defer certain medical tests used to determine nutritional risk. USDA has been expeditiously approving these state requests.
- What is household distribution, and can it help those impacted by COVID-19?
Disaster Household Distribution is a program designed to provide food directly to households in targeted areas to meet specific needs when traditional channels of food are unavailable and not being replenished on a regular basis, such as following a hurricane, tornado or other natural disaster. Under a Presidential Declaration of a National Emergency, as is currently in effect for the U.S., FNS may approve state and Tribal Nation requests for Disaster Household Distribution (DHD). DHD provides boxes of USDA Foods to households in need using existing inventories of USDA-purchased foods. USDA foods to food banks are primarily intended for the use in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which serves low-income people ages 60 and over.
When disasters are localized, USDA is able to move food capacity around to accommodate local need. As the current need is widespread, states must balance the use of inventories directed through Disaster Household Distribution to those newly in need, while also continuing to implement normal federal distribution program operations.
- What other food distribution programs are operating during the current situation?
FNS continues to operate its normal food distribution programs including The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which makes USDA Foods available to state distribution agencies like food banks; the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which serves low-income people ages 60 and over; and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
- How is the Food and Nutrition Service helping food banks during this public health emergency?
Food banks are private, non-profit entities who work in their local communities to gather donations and distribute foods to those in need who may not be accessing other assistance programs. FNS partners with food banks and other state distributing agencies by providing USDA foods through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). USDA has provided states broad discretion to set eligibility limits for TEFAP and ensured that states can take limited eligibility information such as name, address, and self-reported income via telephone, text or other electronic means, or by receiving a 1-page affidavit in a dropbox. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020 provided USDA an additional $400 million for TEFAP, up to $100 million of which can be used to help agencies cover costs associated with distributing a higher volume of food due to COVID-19. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020 provided an additional $450 million for TEFAP. When a localized need is identified, such as disrupted food supply, food banks should check with their state agency regarding a Disaster Household Distribution program.
- How can food banks promote social distancing?
Food banks are private, non-profit entities who have broad discretion over their own activities. FNS partners with food banks and other state distributing agencies by providing USDA foods through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). USDA has provided states broad discretion to set eligibility limits for TEFAP and ensured that states can take limited eligibility information such as name, address, and self-reported income via telephone, text or other electronic means, or by receiving a 1-page affidavit in a dropbox. In addition, many food banks are using a drive-through model in which recipients receive a box of foods that is placed directly in their vehicle by staff or volunteers.
The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.