The U.S Department of Agriculture has confirmed it will continue to provide meals to school kids after coming under pressure from Congress and officials in school districts. Schools will be able to provide free breakfast and lunch to students through the end of the year as long as funds last.
Free Meals Extension
The announcement is a reversal to the department’s initial communication, whereby it required schools to serve meals only to kids enrolled in their district. The agency had also instructed schools to charge students who did not qualify for reduced price meals.
The extension summer program will see needy kids get meals, whether learning in the classroom or from home virtually. The Agriculture Department had planned to end the program by September. Meals were only to be free for parents who would show up with immunocompromised kids.
While the reversal is a big relief for needy students, it still falls short of what Congress and advocates have been pushing for. There has been calls to extend the free meals program until the end of the calendar year in 2021.
The Free meals program benefits over 30 million students in the U.S as more than 22 million live in households where income levels allow them to receive free meals. Demand for grab and go meals has surged in recent months with the expiry of the 600 a week unemployment benefit. With three out of four students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, school staff are struggling to meet the demand.
Extension of the free meals program is highly needed at a time when the U.S economy is struggling with its biggest contraction in recent years. More than 30 million people have been rendered jobless as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on economic activity.
With most people leaving on unemployment benefits, free meals are highly needed to ensure kids continue attending school. The school lunch program is the second-largest nutrition assistance program after food stamps.