The NCSL Blog


By Sean Walsh

School-based child nutrition programs, operating in more than 95% of schools nationally, are a critical lifeline for millions of hungry students each day.

little girl shopping with veggiesWith the coronavirus pandemic upending many aspects of normal life, leaving parents and caregivers unemployed and schools shuttered, federal child nutrition programs are adapting to meet the needs of America’s families.

In a nationwide response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Congress have taken steps to ensure that hungry kids don’t miss out on the meals they would otherwise receive in school.

Congress has created new efforts, such as the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, to provide eligible families with debit cards loaded with the federal reimbursement rate of free school meals for children affected by school closures.

The USDA extended deadlines for school districts to apply for the community eligibility provision, a federal program that currently allows more than 30,000 high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students.

But as millions of workers lose jobs and wages, many more schools are becoming qualified to implement community eligibility and will find it a financially viable option. School districts have until June 30 to begin their application with the USDA.

The USDA also oversees existing summer and afterschool meal programs that have been provided administrative flexibilities to promote social distancing efforts. Many districts across the country are delivering meals to students or allowing families to pick up meals from central distribution sites, ensuring that children from low-income families receive nutritious prepared foods to eat at home.  

Join the NCSL Hunger Partnership and child nutrition experts from the Food Research and Action Center for their webinar “Utilizing the Federal Child Nutrition Programs to Respond to COVID-19 this Summer and Next School Year,” at 1 p.m. ET, June 24.

Learn how federal child nutrition programs are helping children struggling with food insecurity during the public health emergency and beyond.

This webinar will inform state legislators and their staff of best practices schools and community organizations can implement to meet the needs of students this summer and next school year, including community eligibility, innovative delivery models and the new Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program.

Sean Walsh is the Emerson Fellow in NCSL's Immigrant Policy Project/Hunger Partnership.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.