Students can pick up free meals from their schools through the summer. Supporters want the program to be permanent.
The department is extending several waivers so that children will be able to receive free meals even when school is out this summer.
"We will do everything we can to make sure children get access to healthy, nutritious meals regardless of their families' financial circumstances," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Our child nutrition professionals are doing a heroic job ensuring kids across the country have proper nutrition throughout this public health emergency, often times with limited resources. USDA is committed to providing local operators with the flexibilities and resources they need to continue offering the best meal service possible to their children, given their day-to-day realities."
The meals will be distributed through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO), or the "summer meal programs," at no cost. Pick up sites will vary based on region, but can include schools, parks, community centers, libraries, churches and more.
All families, regardless of income, will be eligible for the meals. Additionally, parents and guardians will be able to pick-up meals for their kids, even in bulk orders, to cover multiple days of feeding their families.
It's a great program and one that many organizations would like to see be made permanent.
Today we announced the nationwide extension of several waivers that allow all children to continue to receive nutri… https://t.co/x3SMIoGQvu— Dept. of Agriculture (@Dept. of Agriculture) 1615313740.0
The non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) called on Congress this week to expand the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs to provide universal, free meals across the country.
SNA, which represents more than 50,000 school nutrition administrators nationwide, argues that free meals support learning and improve classroom attendance and behavior.
The American Academy of Pediatrics joined with over 60 other organizations in a December 2020 letter to urge the incoming Biden administration to establish universal school meals.
In 2019, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ilhan Omar introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act to help provide free meals to American families.
"In the richest country in history of the world, when the top 1 percent are making more than they ever have before, it is simply outrageous that 1 in 5 children will go hungry this year," said Senator Sanders at the time.
Several states have enacted their own universal food programs for students. In a recent analysis of those existing programs, scholars with The Brookings Institute found that schoolwide free meals improved math performance in districts where relatively few students had previously qualified for free meals. They also found that the program significantly reduced suspensions among white male elementary students.
"Taken together, these results suggest that free school meals, in addition to providing nutritional benefits, can improve students' academics and discipline," wrote Krista Ruffini.
"Even during the pandemic crisis, when students are not receiving in-person instruction, there is reason to believe schoolwide free-meals programs may still help students."
Now more than ever, we need to do everything we can to support our students. And that starts with making sure they're getting enough to eat.
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