Agriculture Department extends school meal program through mid-2022

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The Department of Agriculture on Tuesday extended school meal programs through the end of next school year, saying the program is expected to end in the summer of 2022.

Why it matters: Many public schools that closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic continued to provide lunches to low-income students who would otherwise go hungry. The move comes as part of the Biden administration's effort to reopen schools as the virus persists.

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  • The USDA also extended critical support to families who struggle with food insecurity — particularly amid the financial crunch of the pandemic.

What they're saying: “States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines."

  • "[S]chools and both child and adult care institutions can continue providing breakfasts, lunches, and after school snacks in non-group settings at flexible meal times," the statement read.

  • The action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators, Vilsack said.

The big picture: Federal officials estimate up to 12 million children are living in households where they may not always have enough to eat.

  • A recent study from Tufts University found food consumed at schools provided the best diet quality of major U.S. food sources among children and adults.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that school meal programs, including breakfast, lunch and after school snacks, have been extended.

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