Federal meal programs supported youths’ access to food during COVID school closures


When colleges closed in the course of the first yr of the pandemic, an instantaneous and doubtlessly devastating downside surfaced: How would thousands and thousands of kids in struggling households get the varsity meals a lot of them trusted?

The U.S. Congress responded by authorizing the Division of Agriculture to roll out two main packages. It launched the “seize and go college meals,” which helped colleges present ready meals for off-site consumption and distributed funding for the state-operated Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program, which gave dad and mom debit playing cards so they might buy groceries from meals retailers.

A brand new examine led by the Harvard and College of Washington colleges of public well being discovered that the packages reached greater than 30 million youngsters and both immediately supplied meals or, via the P-EBT program, money for almost 1.5 billion meals a month in 2020.

Within the new examine printed Aug. 31 in JAMA Community Open, the researchers discovered:

  • The P-EBT program reached 26.9 million of the 30 million youngsters whose households certified due to low earnings at a value of $6.46 per meal, offering entry to 1.1 billion meals a month.
  • The grab-and-go program reached 8 million youngsters not eligible for P-EBT at a value of $8.07 per meal, offering 429 million meals a month.

When colleges needed to shut throughout the nation in the course of the spring of 2020 as a consequence of COVID-19, youngsters impulsively misplaced entry to highschool lunches and breakfasts. From a public well being and diet safety perspective, this was an pressing concern, provided that these meals are important for college kids susceptible to meals insecurity and are additionally an important supply of diet for thousands and thousands of kids.”

Erica Kenney, examine lead creator and assistant professor of public well being diet at Harvard

Kenney stated when these packages started, nobody actually knew how successfully they might attain youngsters who wanted them and at what value per meal. So the researchers got down to attempt to reply how these two main coverage responses to the lack of common college meal entry labored.

“This examine means that, in lots of states, P-EBT can attain essentially the most eligible youngsters at comparatively low value to the federal government, whereas a meal distribution mannequin akin to grab-and-go college meals may also guarantee households immediately obtain meals and attain youngsters past those that are P-EBT-eligible,” stated James Krieger, senior creator and scientific professor of well being techniques and inhabitants well being within the UW College of Public Well being.

Now, Krieger stated, extensions of those two key initiatives are being debated in Congress. On July 27, the Home Training and Labor Committee despatched its 2022 Baby Vitamin Reauthorization invoice (H.R. 8450), the “Wholesome Meals, Wholesome Children Act” to the Home ground.

Within the following Q&A, Krieger and Kenney focus on what their findings imply for this or comparable coverage.

What would the brand new “youngsters act” do?

Krieger: The act proposes a complete, science-driven reauthorization of federal baby diet packages that meets the wants of kids and households. It consists of many acquainted and important packages, akin to college meals and the WIC program. It will handle meals insecurity amongst youngsters in the course of the summer season, when colleges are closed, by considerably increasing entry to summer season meals and making a nationwide Summer time-EBT program. The Summer time-EBT program would function equally to P-EBT in some ways and supply $75 monthly per family on an digital debit card. It helps college efforts to extend entry to summer season meals utilizing strategies that labored within the grab-and-go college meals program throughout COVID college closures.

Primarily based in your findings, what ought to Congress do for teenagers?

Krieger: Our examine gives proof that these elements of the proposed act -; an EBT program to distribute the worth of faculty meals, just like the proposed summer-EBT program, mixed with expanded distribution of meals in the neighborhood, just like the expanded summer season meals program-; had been efficient in feeding thousands and thousands of kids when colleges had been closed as a consequence of COVID and means that they may also probably be efficient in delivering meals to youngsters throughout college summer season recess. Together with each packages within the act would assist to guarantee meals entry when colleges are closed throughout summer season breaks.

Kenney: An essential takeaway from our examine that could be related for the dialog in regards to the Wholesome Meals, Wholesome Children Act is that these needs to be thought-about collectively, as a two-pronged technique. The 2 approaches complement each other: P-EBT might help be sure that at the least the money worth of these missed meals can get out to low-income households effectively, and grab-and-go meals can be certain that households who could also be struggling however might not have a low-enough earnings to qualify for P-EBT can nonetheless get meals. They’ll additionally be certain that households who might have extra issue making ready meals -; like households experiencing homelessness or with restricted kitchen amenities, and even simply with restricted time -; can entry nutritionally ample meals.

What else ought to Congress think about?

Krieger: The federal authorities needs to be investigating methods for optimizing the cost-effectiveness of grab-and-go college meals. It also needs to broaden the P-EBT program or its equal to cowl 60 meals monthly as a substitute of 40 to match the grab-and-go college meals profit stage. And, it ought to work to optimize the dietary high quality of the meals supplied.

Co-authors embrace Lina Pinero Walkinshaw and Jessica Jones-Smith, UW Division of Well being Programs and Inhabitants Well being; Ye Shen and Sara Bleich, Harvard T.H. Chan College of Public Well being; and Sheila E. Fleischhacker of the Georgetown College Regulation Middle. This analysis was funded by the Robert Wooden Johnson Basis.


Journal reference:

Kenney, E.L., et al. (2022) Prices, Attain, and Advantages of COVID-19 Pandemic Digital Profit Switch and Seize-and-Go College Meals for Guaranteeing Youths’ Entry to Meals Throughout College Closures. JAMA Community Open. doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.29514.

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