USDA free lunch program extended through 2022
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As the pandemic continues, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended free healthy meals for schools and childcare institutions across the country. The Biden-Harris Administration originally committed to providing these meals through 2021, but as COVID-19 remains prevalent in the United States, it has extended the program through June 30, 2022.

A bunch of brown paper bags filled with snacks. This is a photo representing school lunch.
USDA’s free lunch program can be a major benefit to Black families. Photo: AP, Rogelio V. Solis

Of more than 75 percent of all students receiving free or reduced lunch even before the pandemic, Black children made up more than 44 percent from that group. In many underserved neighborhoods, it’s a challenge to get to nutritious foods due to food deserts.

Food deserts are places where people have limited access to food. Usually, they are in low-income areas, where residents have to travel farther to get healthy food options. Typically, these food deserts are surrounded by many fast food and liquor stores.

At least 39 million people in the U.S. live in low-income and low-access areas, according to the USDA

 Living in these areas leaves citizens with higher long-term risks of diet-related health issues like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. This is why this extension can be a game-changer and hopefully an indication that there is a more permanent change on the way. 

Nationwide, schools will be serving meals through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Option (SSO). 

Usually, this program only runs through the summer to provide students with vegetables, milk and whole grains. In order to ensure the most nutritious meals possible, schools will receive higher than normal reimbursements for every meal. 

“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 Cardona said in a 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.”

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardon