Credit: WSBT 22

The program will last until the end of the year.

In typical times, the US Department of Agriculture offers a free meal program for lower-income families with children during the summer months. The purpose of the program is to ensure children can still get square meals, even when schools are closed during the summer. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping many schools closed and re-closing others, children in lower-income families won’t be regaining access to the school lunch program. With the summer meal program set to expire in September, numerous children would not be able to get proper meals.

In order to remedy this, the USDA announced yesterday that the free meal program will be extended to at least the end of the year to ensure that children can still get meals whether their schools have reopened or not.

“This unprecedented move will help ensure – no matter what the situation is on-the-ground – children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. USDA has been and continues to be committed to using the Congressionally appropriated funding that has been made available,” the USDA’s official statement read.

Credit: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle/Chron

“This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children — whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually — so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue added.

In addition to extending the amount of time the free meal program is available, the USDA will also be expanding how people can access it. Officials will be distributing meals at all hours of the day for no charge. Children can come get them themselves, or parents can come and pick them up if their children are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection.