USDA announces expanded efforts to fight child food insecurity, local school districts react

Politics

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The summer months are approaching, and the Biden Administration is working to address child food insecurity in places like the area.

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a plan that will extend aid to provide free meals to children throughout the summer.

“It’s a program that’s going to provide $375 to kids in low-income families to help them meet their nutritional needs over the course of the summer,” Jared Bernstein, White House Economic Advisor, tells KTSM 9 News.

The effort is funded by the American Rescue Plan and will provide adequate nutrition to more than 30 million children across the country by expanding the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or P-EBT benefits.

“Which is a complicated name for a simple idea,” Bernstein said.

P-EBT was created in March 2020 to provide food funds to families to make up for meals missed at school because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was set to expire on September 31, 2021 but benefits will continue to be available through June 2022 . 

Children are eligible for the temporary nutrition benefit (funds are loaded onto an EBT card that may be used to purchase food) if the child is eligible to receive free or reduced-cost meals during the school year, or are under six years old and live in a SNAP household.

“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. “Our nutrition assistance programs are powerful tools that are critical to America reaching a full and equitable recovery from the pandemic.”

Local school districts are grateful for the extended support. 

“I really appreciate the USA has taken all the limitations that we’ve faced into consideration,” Marco Macias, Director of Child Nutritional Services at Canutillo Independent School District tells KTSM.

Canutillo ISD and other area districts have been working to fight local food insecurity and promote access to nutritious meals.

“Not just the kids — anybody,” says Macias.

“You need to be able to eat. You need to be able to get all your nutrients,” he adds. 

As many as 12 million children in the U.S. have not always had sufficient access to meals during the pandemic. Food insecurity disproportionately affects communities of color.

Bernstein says the Biden Administration recognizes many families do not have access to time or transportation to pick-up the meals.

“Probably the most important thing for families to know is that we built a mechanism into this program where the nutritional resources will get delivered to them if they can’t get to the food,” says Bernstein. 

In a statement sent to KTSM, Ysleta Independent School District writes:

“The Ysleta Independent School District is pleased with the decision from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the free school meal program to continue this fall through June 2022. Although there has been significant progress made in regard to the pandemic, we know that providing students with meals assists many of our families with the opportunity to recover from the impact of COVID-19.”

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of other USDA actions to bolster food security while also emphasizing nutrition. 

The American Rescue Plan provides more than $12 billion in novel nutrition assistance to address pandemic hardship.

“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. “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.”

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