In a time where studies show record numbers of children don’t have access to nutritious food, a federal program has been expanded to provide more meals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture program that offers reimbursements for meals provided to at-risk youth during after-school programs has been expanded to include Vermont, which now makes it available in 13 states and Washington D.C.
About 49,000 children around the country benefit from the programs every day, the Associated Press reported. USDA officials say the program is expected to cost $8 million from 2009 to 2013.
Statistics show that the number of families living in “food-insecure” households — that is, a home that doesn’t have nutritious food available — increased by 11.1 percent from 2007 to 2008 — 47 million families, with an estimated 16.7 million children.
“This is the highest recorded prevalence rate of food insecurity since 1995 when the first national food security survey was conducted,” the USDA Economic Research Service study noted.
The same study also found that food spending declined and food insecurity increased for middle and low-income families from 2000 to 2007.
Sites that offer meals with after-school programs in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. are eligible for the reimbursement. The USDA requires that the meals are nutritionally balanced.
The meals must be offered in communities where at least 50 percent of households fall below the poverty level.
Health experts are lauding the USDA program because it ensures that growing children have healthy, balanced options.