Calling it the nation’s largest summer child nutrition effort, the Biden administration announced Monday that it will expand a key coronavirus aid program to help get food to more than 30 million kids after the school year ends.
Eligible families will receive roughly $375 per child — or about $6.82 per child per weekday — through the Pandemic-EBT program for the summer, though the total amount may vary if a state opts to use its own schedule. Parents can then use the funds to purchase food.
Children who are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals during the school year and those under age 6 whose families receive food stamps qualify for the assistance, even if they attended school in person during the year.
It’s typically more difficult for low-income children to receive nutrition assistance over the summer, when schools are out of session. Summer meal programs reach typically fewer than 20% of families served during the school year, the US Department of Agriculture said.
“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,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Congress created the Pandemic-EBT program to help the millions of children who lost access to breakfast and lunch after the coronavirus shut down their schools last spring. Lawmakers then continued the measure for the 2020-2021 school year, and the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion relief package extended it for the duration of the outbreak, including over the summer.
The program, however, has been difficult for states to administer — particularly this school year, since millions of students have remained in remote learning and schedules are so varied.
Though the administration has ramped up the pace of approving states to provide Pandemic-EBT benefits for the 2020-21 school year, about a dozen have yet to receive permission. That leaves millions of children across the nation unable to access billions of dollars in federal nutrition assistance.
And even in states that have been approved, parents say they are still waiting to receive benefits.
The delays come as hunger has risen, particularly among families with children, amid the pandemic.
Fewer children receive free summer meals
Even before the pandemic, feeding children over the summer was a challenge, with transportation, scheduling and weather proving to be barriers, experts said. Hunger is linked to summer learning loss, as well as a higher likelihood of illnesses and emotional stress.
Sending families money directly on benefits cards should address some of these problems.
“Pandemic-EBT is a practical, efficient way to reach more kids with the food they need when they are not in school,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president, Share Our Strength, an advocacy group. “This summer, P-EBT will help parents purchase more of the food their kids need, when they need it.”