Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, nearly 14 million children have been living in food-insecure households. School closures have exacerbated the problem, depriving many children who depend on free and reduced-price meals they receive at school.

To help schools deliver meals efficiently and safely, the United States Department of Agriculture was granted authority by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to administer several different waivers that allow schools to dispense meals to students and their families in a safe and effective manner. These regulatory waivers have cut down on administrative burden by providing flexibility for when and how meals are administered, such as allowing parent pick-up and meal delivery.

Most importantly during this difficult time, the waivers allowed all meals under the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, which provide meals at no cost to low-income children, to be served to all children in the area at no cost even if the school districts don’t meet the 50 percent area eligibility requirement.

First Focus on Children was very pleased that USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue reversed his previous decision to let these waivers expire on September 1, and that they now extended through December 31, 2020.

While this is an excellent step in ensuring children are getting enough to eat, more needs to be done to reduce the growing number of hungry children and help cash-strapped school nutrition programs. Congress must increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) maximum benefit levels by 15 percent, as many families are already receiving the maximum benefit allowed.

Lawmakers also must extend the Pandemic-EBT program through the next school year to help low-income families with children replace meals received from federally funded school nutrition programs as many schools face uncertain Fall semesters. School nutrition programs are also facing uncertain financial futures, as many meal program directors anticipate financial losses and decreased revenue.

Emergency funding should be allocated for such programs to ensure they can continue operating and providing millions of children with nutritious meals. Find more details on First Focus Campaign for Children’s nutrition policy recommendations.