In a bold move meant to address hunger and food insecurity, the Biden administration plans to announce a sweeping food program geared toward feeding 34 million low-income children over the summer, when school-based free-meal programs are unavailable.
“Congress, through the American Rescue Plan, expanded this program to operate during the summer, which I think was just highly responsive to what we need right now,” Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary of agriculture for food, nutrition and consumer services, told NBC News. “We know that summer hunger is a problem in normal years, but obviously this year, with heightened food hardship as a result of the pandemic, we’re happy to deploy the program this summer.”
The plan would make available $6.82 per day for 10 weeks of summer break (coming to about $375 apiece) to 34 million children. Opponents of the program have complained that it comes at a significant financial cost, but proponents say it’s a small price to pay to make sure kids don’t go hungry when school isn’t in session.
In previous years, children received other forms of food aid during the summer months, but officials said that these programs were only reaching 20 percent of the kids who normally receive free lunch and breakfast during the school year.
“If we’re serious about alleviating food insecurity in our country, it doesn’t come free. We have to pay money to reduce food insecurity,” Craig Gundersen, an agricultural and consumer economics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Today. “USDA has recognized in studies that this is a problem: Kids are going hungry over the summertime.”
Children under the age of 6 who qualify for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs and children who receive free or reduced-price school lunches will be automatically enrolled in the program. Pandemic Electronic Benefits Cards will be mailed to parents or guardians from state officials and should start being delivered within the next few weeks.
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