More than 30 million children who receive food and nutrition benefits through school will continue to get food assistance this summer through an expansion of the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this week.
Before, summer break caused a nutrition gap for low-income households. Summer feeding programs typically reach less than 20% of the number of children served during the school year.
“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 in a release. “By providing low-income families with a simple benefit over the summer months, USDA is using an evidenced-based solution to drive down hunger and ensure no child has to miss a meal.”
P-EBT was introduced in March 2020 when schools abruptly shifted to hybrid and remote learning and left families on the hook to provide as many as 10 additional weekly meals plus snacks per child. The program provides the cash equivalent to families for what a school-age child receives in school-subsidized meals to supplement grocery purchases.
The typical weekday benefit is $6.82 per child, per family. When extrapolated over the summer months, families could receive roughly $375 per child to help put food on the table. Initially set to expire on Sept. 30, 2021, President Biden's American Rescue Plan Act extended the program through the pandemic’s duration.
The financial hardship experienced over the last year has ballooned the nation’s food insecurity crisis with as many as 29 million adults and 12 million children reporting food scarcity and hunger during the pandemic, the USDA reports. Recent data from the Census Bureau shows food insecurity among adults has fallen from its pandemic-era high of 13.7% in December 2020 to 8.8% as of March.
This new effort builds on measures already in place by the administration to blunt the food scarcity crisis and comes on the heels of last week’s USDA announcement of the extension of universal free lunch through the 2021-2022 school year.
In addition to stimulus checks Americans have received since April 2020 and expanded unemployment benefits, both of which have helped alleviate hunger, $12 billion of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is devoted to food and nutrition assistance.
Among the most notable pieces of advancement are a 15% increase to SNAP benefits for 41 million beneficiaries that will extend through September 2021. There is also a temporary increase of fruit and vegetable vouchers to $35 per month to Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) beneficiaries.
Additional funds are being funneled to financially insecure seniors through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and young adults experiencing homelessness through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), along with nearly 3 million Americans living in U.S. territories.
“Help is here for financially stressed families trying to put food on the table,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for USDA’s food, nutrition, and consumer services, in a statement. “Our nutrition assistance programs are powerful tools that are critical to America reaching a full and equitable recovery from the pandemic.”