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Washington, DC (KROC AM News) - Food reimbursement programs that were started in the early stages of the pandemic will continue through the summer of 2022.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the extension Tuesday.

The programs allow schools and childcare centers to offer free meals to all students regardless of their family’s income.

The USDA says as many as 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not always have enough to eat.

During the past year, America’s schools and childcare centers have provided a nutrition lifeline for children across the country, many of whom depend on USDA’s child nutrition programs for the nourishment they need to grow and thrive. Some kids rely on these programs for as many as three meals a day.

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According to the USDA, a recent study from Tufts University found that in 2018, schools were the single healthiest source of U.S. food consumed across a sample of children and adults. The 2018 study found that diet quality for foods from schools improved significantly from a similar study conducted in 2003-2004.

Schools nationwide will be allowed to serve meals through USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option, which is typically only available during the summer months. This option maintains the nutrition standards of the standard school meal programs while allowing schools to serve free meals to all children.

In addition, schools that choose this option will receive higher-than-normal reimbursements for every meal they serve, which will support them in serving the most nutritious meals possible while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational and supply chain challenges.

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