As parents, educators, and students struggle to figure out what schooling will look like going forward, the USDA has determined that, at the very least, these groups won’t have to worry about lunch. According to the Washington Post, the USDA has extended its universal lunch program through the 2021-2022 school year in an effort to ensure millions of children and teens are fed for at least another year. The program, which initially launched at the start of the pandemic, will continue to allow for children to be given free meals “outside of the traditional group settings and mealtimes” as well as allowing parents to pick up several days worth of food for students who are still doing virtual learning at home. The continuation of this program comes as a huge relief to families who have lost jobs and months of income as a result of the pandemic.
The program waivers will also provide relief for schools that can apply for reimbursement to the USDA for the free meals given to students. During the 2020-2021 schools could be reimbursed $4.25 per meal, an increased “summer rate” that was used throughout the school session. The reimbursements aided in covering increased costs incurred by schools that had to purchase PPE and other extra supplies in order to operate in-person classes as safely as possible. However, the rates for the new school year have not been announced.
While students and parents can breathe easier for the upcoming school year,once the government decides that the pandemic has come to an end the universal lunch program may not be as robust. Despite the truth that the economic impact of the pandemic will wreak havoc on the country for years—even after everyone has been vaccinated and released into the wild—extending the program is a “legislative question” USDA deputy undersecretary Stacy Dean told the Post. Meanwhile, hunger and food insecurity cannot wait to be solved while the legislative questions take years to find their rhetorical answers.