The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Monday that it plans to expand access to funding for millions of families with low incomes who are struggling to feed children during the coming summer months when school is out.
Many families rely on free or reduced-price meals during the year to help ensure their children are getting fed throughout the school week. But during summer months, when schools are out of session, millions of families struggle with food insecurity, as they already cannot afford these types of meal plans for their children during the school year.
The American Rescue Plan, the economic relief package that was passed earlier this year to address the financial crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, included the continued funding of Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) cards, which work similarly to similar cards under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many families facing financial hardships during the pandemic are eligible for P-EBT cards, and those who qualify will see their limits increased over the summer to address food insecurity.
The plan could reach as many as 34 million children across the U.S. It would provide $375 for the duration of the 10 weeks of summer when they’re not in school, equivalent to around $7.50 per weekday (slightly more than the $6.82 per weekday that qualifying families would ordinarily receive through supplemental lunch programs).
According to the department, this will be the largest summer food program in the history of the U.S.
“The expansion of P-EBT benefits over the summer is a first-of-its-kind, game-changing intervention to reduce child hunger in the United States,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “By providing low-income families with a simple benefit over the summer months, USDA is using an evidenced-based solution to drive down hunger and ensure no child has to miss a meal.
Families that qualify for the increases in P-EBT benefits include those with children under the age of 6 in families that receive SNAP as well as school-aged children that already receive free or reduced-price lunches. Enrollment in the new summer funding program will be automatic, and eligible families will receive these stipends both this summer and in the summer of 2022.
While there are a number of programs that reach children who depend on school lunches during the non-summer months, it’s estimated that summer food programs reach less than 20 percent of students that receive food assistance during the school year. It’s hoped that the new USDA program will address those shortfalls.
“Help is here for financially stressed families trying to put food on the table,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “Our nutrition assistance programs are powerful tools that are critical to America reaching a full and equitable recovery from the pandemic.”
Some advocacy groups have called for the Biden administration to extend the program beyond the pandemic. Earlier this year, prior to the American Rescue Plan being passed, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) released a report titled “Hunger in America: A Comprehensive Federal Response.” In that report, the organization recommended extending summertime aid to students facing food insecurity with the possibility of making the program a permanent one.
Lawmakers should “study the success of the P-EBT program with an eye to converting it into a Summer EBT program post-Covid,” PPI said in February, “to bridge the gap in nutrition during the summer months and reach more low-income children in rural and underserved communities.”
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