January saw some Minnesota schools move back to distance learning because of COVID-19 cases. Families struggling to find their kids meals in these scenarios are urged to use available aid, while policymakers face pressure to remove food barriers beyond the crisis.
States like Minnesota opted to carry out an extra form of federal relief for when schools shift to remote learning. Households can receive Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, which are loaded with a certain amount of money for each day a child is forced to stay home.
Bukata Hayes – vice president of racial and health equity for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota – said even when it’s just temporary, lack of access has a big impact.
“The notion that students who are hungry prior to engaging in learning see, if you will, diminished academic outcomes compared to those who have access to nutritional meals,” said Hayes.
The federal government is still providing free meals to all students when they’re in school. But that expanded program expires this summer, renewing calls for permanent universal free meals.
Some states have either adopted such plans or are debating them, and there’s legislation in the U.S. Senate. Opponents generally cite cost concerns and worry it will reach some who don’t need it, but supporters say it removes stigma while reducing administrative burdens.
Hayes said most importantly it helps to address long-standing health inequities in states like Minnesota, while ensuring a level of certainty for kids in families dealing with multiple struggles.
“If I do know that at 8:00 the next morning, or 7:30 the next morning and 11:30 the next day that I do have that,” said Hayes, “that removes one anxiety. ”
And Hayes said meals will be there when other households suddenly lose their income. He pointed to children who lost a caregiver to COVID-19.
“Then all of a sudden that particular student who, prior to that, was able to pay and family was able to provide and didn’t need to worry about it,” said Hayes, “now that student and that family – they need access.”
More details on the Pandemic EBT program can be found on the website for Hunger Solutions.