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A student chaperoned by an adult picks up a meal to go. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The Department of Agriculture on Tuesday extended school meal programs through the end of next school year, saying the program is expected to end in the summer of 2022.

Why it matters: Many public schools that closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic continued to provide lunches to low-income students who would otherwise go hungry. The move comes as part of the Biden administration's effort to reopen schools as the virus persists.

  • The USDA also extended critical support to families who struggle with food insecurity — particularly amid the financial crunch of the pandemic.

What they're saying: “States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines."

  • "[S]chools and both child and adult care institutions can continue providing breakfasts, lunches, and after school snacks in non-group settings at flexible meal times," the statement read.
  • The action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators, Vilsack said.

The big picture: Federal officials estimate up to 12 million children are living in households where they may not always have enough to eat.

  • A recent study from Tufts University found food consumed at schools provided the best diet quality of major U.S. food sources among children and adults.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that school meal programs, including breakfast, lunch and after school snacks, have been extended.

Go deeper

Jul 28, 2021 - Axios Tampa Bay

School masking reemerges as pandemic fault line across Florida

Families protest masks outside the Hillsborough County school board meeting. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Despite Hillsborough County's COVID positivity rate hitting an all-time high, many families and students are demanding that masks stay optional for the coming school year.

What’s happening: Public testimony at the county's school board meeting on Tuesday was largely dominated by people opposed to a mask mandate, even though no mask decision was on the agenda.

Back-to-school spending expected to hit record high

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Families are expecting to spend a record amount on back-to-school shopping this year, according to a new National Retail Federation survey conducted this month.

Why it matters: Purchases will be driven in part by electronics items, putting more pressure on retailers and manufacturers to meet that demand amid a continuing chip shortage and other supply chain constraints.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jul 29, 2021 - Health

Testing our way around the Delta surge

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The recent surge of COVID-19 cases is strengthening the case for more frequent testing.

Why it matters: The more contagious Delta variant threatens the fuller reopening of offices and schools in the fall. But regular testing — especially with cheap and almost instantaneous tests — could help catch cases before they have a chance to spread.