Recent Updates to School Meal Programs, SNAP, and WIC in Response to COVID-19

From Laura Lester, Executive Director of the Alabama Food Bank Association:

We wanted to send out an update on what’s happening in Alabama in response to the Covid-19 emergency and our anti-hunger efforts. We know y’all are also overwhelmed with work, and that the situation is changing rapidly, but hopefully this can provide some guidance for where we are right now. This email is intended for agencies working on hunger issues – but please know that there are several resources available for those working on other policy issues like Medicaid expansion, TANF, paid medical leave and unemployment benefits. Please visit Alabama Arise ( for more information on these vital programs. Also know that the information provided is to the best of our knowledge at the moment – because of the challenges some of the resources provided might not be 100% accurate but please know that the state’s response to the epidemic is a moving target and updates may lag a few days behind policy changes.

Replacing school meals 

The Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option (through the National School Lunch Program) are available to provide meals through school closures. Schools and other Summer Food sponsors (which can include local government agencies and private nonprofit organizations) are currently applying with the state to provide meals to children through these two “summer” programs. The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) has applied for the following waivers to allow sites to safely distribute meals to children during this crisis:

  • Sites must operate in a non-congregate setting – meaning meals can be handed out and not consumed on site.
  • Two meals per child, per day are allowed in any combination with the exception of lunch and supper AND multiple meals can be distributed for multiplate days (for more information contact Danielle Turk at /334-694-4681 or Kim Ruggles at  )
  • Meals may be served at sites with 50% or greater free and reduced lunch enrollment, or if a site does not meet the 50% or more qualification, a school or sponsor must target households of enrolled children who are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals through their meal distribution indicated on the online application.

The biggest challenge is helping families find open sites in their area. Most school systems that are currently providing meals have done a great job getting the word out to families. The problem is how often this information is changing – often daily. put together a list last week, but it is not complete and likely already out of date. Many school systems are planning to stop serving over their scheduled spring break, and because they don’t know if the schools will reopen, they aren’t able to commit beyond that time. ALSDE runs a site to help folks find existing summer meal sites called but the Department of Education is working overtime trying to enter all of the information into the system. It will not be complete for a week or two, but it will likely still be the site with the most up to date information. 


The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides temporary new authority and broad flexibility for the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) to adapt the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) program to address many people’s food needs during the current public health emergency and economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In Alabama DHR is working to implement the following temporary changes to the SNAP program:

  • Suspension of work requirement. The Act includes a nationwide, temporary suspension of SNAP’s three-month time limit on benefits for adults under age 50 without children in their SNAP household.
  • The legislation appears to authorize USDA to provide an additional allotment to all households up to the amount of the maximum benefit for their household size. For now, USDA is interpreting the provision to allow states to raise SNAP benefits for each household only up to the maximum benefit for the household size. Alabama DHR is working hard to implement this increase for families currently not receiving the maximum amount of benefits. These benefits are approved to be increased during March and April for now.  
  • The Act allows states to provide meal-replacement benefits through SNAP or another mechanism for households with children who attend a school that’s closed and who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals. States may provide supplemental SNAP benefits for households already receiving SNAP, and may make “issuances” to households with school-age children who are not already enrolled in SNAP. The best way to implement this rule is still an open question, and we will continue to update you as we learn more from USDA and DHR.  
  • Currently DHR is looking at other administrative changes to the SNAP program to help applicants. As these are approved we will let folks know immediately.  

WIC (Women, Infants and Children)  The WIC program, operated by the Alabama Department of Public Health,  provides specific high-nutrition foods for pregnant and breast-feeding women; infants; and children under the age of 5. There are income limits but they’re higher than those for SNAP. A family of three can have an annual income up to $39,461 and still be WIC eligible.  A list of the foods that can be purchased with a WIC EBT card can be found here,  

Because WIC is a health program, it normally requires a face-to-face meeting with WIC staff and a physical exam to determine if a health condition (like anemia) exists which can be addressed by improved nutrition.

The Department of Public Health has applied for, and received, a waiver of those face-to-face visits and exams so applicants for WIC can receive benefits without having to go to a local health office.

There has been some concern in response to anecdotal reports that WIC approved foods are not available on some store shelves, creating problems for recipients.  States are allowed to request waivers allowing recipients to substitute similar items for WIC approved items. Alabama has not requested a waiver to do this at this time, because Public Health believes that the WIC food choices are wide enough that recipients will still be able to spend all their benefits.

Additional Resources

USDA posted guidance on Pandemic EBT; meal delivery; and nationwide waivers on meal times, after school activities and non-congregate feeding. They also posted SNAP guidance on time limits and emergency allotments.