While expanded vaccine eligibility hopefully means that the worst of the pandemic will soon be behind us, we’re still firmly in a recovery phase, and we have a long way to go before getting to whatever the new normal will be. In an effort to potentially reimagine what that new normal could look like, the Biden administration has expanded a federal free lunch program to provide meals for millions of students throughout the summer.
According to the Associated Press, funding for the program will come from the coronavirus relief package that was passed in March. The Agriculture Department has said the program is intended to be an extension of the payments parents are already receiving as a result of virtual classes limiting access to free school meals. Families that are eligible for the payments would receive $6.82 per child for every weekday, with payments totalling up to $375 a month per child.
Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at Agriculture, said that Congress previously approved limited funding for pilot programs to test the effectiveness of the payments. But the coronavirus relief package allowed it to be rolled out nationwide.
Besides the food aid, the relief package allowed parents to receive roughly $250 a month starting in July for each child between the ages of 6 and 17. Qualifying families with a child under 6 would receive $300 monthly. The payments are part of an enhanced child tax credit that would expire at the end of this year, according to the terms of the most recent coronavirus relief package.
President Joe Biden plans to extend the monthly payments through 2025. The extension would be part of a multi-trillion dollar plan that he intends to announce Wednesday in a joint address to Congress.
Historically, conservatives haven’t been fans of problems actually being solved, and this is no different. Conservative critics of the program believe the payments will give people less incentive to work. In their heads, parents need assistance because they didn’t work hard enough as opposed to the fact that wages have stagnated, the cost of living is steadily increasing, and no one who has the power to do anything about it actually does. These payments could potentially ensure that 34 million children aren’t going hungry throughout the summer. If you got beef with that, there’s something broken in you.
Typically when the school year ends, kids can receive meals through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Administration officials noted those programs only help about 20 percent of the children who are eligible for free lunch, though. Children who receive free lunch throughout the school year are already qualified for the summer program, and children who receive SNAP benefits will receive the summer payments in addition to their current benefits.