By Team

MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) – The US Department of Agriculture has announced that it is extending Universal Free Lunch through the 2021-2022 school year.

This is an effort to help more than 12 million school students who are going through food insecurity.

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“With food insecurity worsened by an ongoing pandemic, its lasting effects will be felt by Florida’s most vulnerable for years to come. Ensuring that all of Florida’s kids are fed no matter their family income, has always been a top priority. As a longtime advocate for universal school meals, I’m thankful for the USDA’s extension so that we can continue to provide access to healthy, nutritious meals, on which so many children have come to rely,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Back in March, the administration said it would only be extended until September 30th, leaving schools and families uncertain about what next school year might look like, according to The Washington Post.

The USDA also has a Meals For Kids Finder for when schools are closed.

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Child nutrition program waivers were put in place at the start of the pandemic when millions were dealing with hardships. The waivers allowed schools and community organizations to adapt programs to better meet the needs of children and families. They also allowed parents to do curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home and in many cases for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continued to learn virtually, according to The Washington Post.

The USDA’s decision means that schools won’t have to transition this fall back to traditional school lunch and breakfast programs, which typically provide a mix of free, subsidized and paid meals to students, depending on their household’s income level.

According to Feeding America, more than 42 million people may experience food insecurity during the pandemic.

The USDA offers a toll-free number 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (Spanish) to support families in need of food assistance. The hotline is staffed Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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