Millions of families struggle with food insecurity every summer when school is out. Income loss due to the pandemic has only exasperated the situation.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) up to 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not have enough to eat.
If you’re worried about how to put food on your family’s table, help is out there.
How to Get Free Meals for Kids This Summer: 3 Federal Programs
The American Rescue Plan — the coronavirus relief package President Joe Biden signed into law in March 2021 — provided funding to expand several USDA programs aimed to reduce child hunger.
1. Pandemic EBT
Families with children eligible for free or reduced lunch and those who qualify for SNAP benefits can receive extra money for food via the Pandemic EBT program, which is being extended through the summer to make up for missed school meals.
The USDA standard benefit amount is $375 per eligible child over the course of the summer. Those living in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands have a higher standard benefit.
You’ll need to enroll in the Pandemic EBT program through your individual state, as funds are disbursed at the state level. Currently, 28 states have been approved to operate Pandemic EBT programs over the summer.
Money is generally distributed in two or three disbursements throughout the summer.
2. USDA Summer Meals
All families with children 18 and under can participate in the USDA’s summer meal programs, which partners with local agencies including libraries, community centers, parks, churches and schools to distribute meals.
Program rules have been loosened so that meals can be distributed in bulk packages to cover multiple days and so parents can pick up the food without having their children present.
This interactive map helps you find local meal distribution sites. You can also locate a nearby site by texting “Summer Meals” to 97779 or calling 1-866-348-6479.
3. USDA National Hunger Hotline
The USDA National Hunger Hotline can help families seeking food assistance. Call 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. E.T. to reach the hotline. If you need assistance in Spanish, call 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273).
Free Meals Next School Year
Even after summer comes to an end, families will still be able to get a financial break when it comes to feeding their kids.The USDA is extending its National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option so that students can receive universal free lunch throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Waivers will also be given to provide free meals for kids in daycare and preschool programs.
If your students are still learning virtually, you’ll be able to pick up meals to eat at home. Check with your child’s school or child care provider to see if they are participating in this program.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.