The Biden administration on Tuesday issued an extension for free school lunch through 2022 as part of its effort to reopen schools safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow school meal programs to resume serving meals to students this fall and will extend the programs through the following year. The programs will also allow for flexible service that promotes social distancing as schools begin to reopen across the country.
“USDA will remain relentless in ensuring our nation’s children get the critical nutrition they need,” Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE said in the release. “States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall. USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines.
"This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids," he added. "It’s a win-win for kids, parents and schools.”
With the extension, public schools across the country will be able to provide meals through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO), which is usually only available to students during the summer, the press release noted. The program will also ensure that students are provided meals that include nutritional items such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk and maintain "sensible" calorie amounts.
“Students’ success in the classroom goes hand in hand with their ability to access basic needs like healthy and nutritious meals,” Secretary of Education Miguel CardonaMiguel CardonaEducation Department releases guide for using COVID-19 relief funds to address school labor shortages On The Money — No SALT, and maybe no deal Over 80 lawmakers urge Biden to release memo outlining his authority on student debt cancellation MORE said, according to the release. “It’s critical that our efforts to reopen schools quickly and safely include programs that provide access to free, healthy meals for our most vulnerable students, particularly those whose communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic. This program will ensure more students, regardless of their educational setting, can access free, healthy meals as more schools reopen their doors for in-person learning.”
Nearly 12 million children nationwide do not always have access to nutritious meals during the pandemic, according to the release.