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Free School Meals Extended, But KY Food Banks Expect Rise in Need

In the pandemic economy, nearly one in eight U.S. households doesn't have enough to eat. (Adobe Stock)
In the pandemic economy, nearly one in eight U.S. households doesn't have enough to eat. (Adobe Stock)
October 14, 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Kentucky kids can continue to receive free school meals through next June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced. The extension of waivers for its summer food-service program will ensure children can eat school breakfasts and lunches, even if they aren't physically returning to classrooms.

Kate McDonald, No Kid Hungry campaign director for the group Feeding Kentucky, said the move allows schools and nonprofits the flexibility to adapt their meal programs to serve more students.

"So, that means parents can pick up several meals for kids at once at a school; or a school bus may be able to drop off meals at a student's home or in a location near a student's home," she said. "So, accessibility is so much greater."

She said school meals are critical for combating child hunger in the United States, especially in rural communities, which make up 87% of counties with the highest rates of overall food insecurity, according to data from Feeding America.

The USDA also extended Pandemic EBT to Kentucky students. Feeding Kentucky advocacy coordinator Karena Cash said this has helped kids recoup meals they missed at the onset of the crisis. She sai eligible students automatically will receive a new EBT card in the mail with their benefit amount. The cards are expected to arrive this month or in November.

"That's 625,000 Kentucky students who are eligible for grocery money to make up for the meals they missed while they were not in-person," she said.

Cash said she believes the situation will worsen, as it becomes clear lawmakers won't pass the next federal coronavirus relief package until after the election. As rent relief runs out and eviction moratoriums expire, she said, more families are in danger of skipping meals to cover housing and utility expenses.

"And people are willing to defer those payments for food in order to make sure there's a roof over their head, so rent relief is huge," she said. "The longer we push the federal relief package down the road, the more families in Kentucky are going to suffer."

Food banks across the state have seen a 40% increase in demand, driven by households that haven't previously relied on food assistance. Experts have said it could take a decade or more for food insecurity nationwide to ease to pre-pandemic levels.

The USDA announcement is online at usda.gov.

Disclosure: Feeding Kentucky contributes to our fund for reporting on Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY