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Tennessee kids will have expanded food access this summer thanks to federal aid

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that Pandemic EBT cards will fund weekday meals for students when they're out of school this summer.

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — More than 30 million U.S. children will have food to eat this summer thanks to a new federal program.

It's part of the latest coronavirus relief bill and aims to end child food insecurity over the summer.

Kids enrolled in free or reduced lunch, or those under six years old receiving SNAP benefits, will get extra funding to make sure they eat when school is out.

"Oh, I'm really excited. It's a challenge to feed the children through the summer. We have a weekend feeding program but this sounds like something that could give a lot of hope to the families that are in our service area," said Elaine Streno, Executive Director of Second Harvest Food Bank.

She knows this is assistance a lot of people can use.

The USDA said about $375 per child will be given to their parent or guardian on a P-EBT card.

That's calculated to cover weekday meals for 10 weeks over the summer.

“The expansion of P-EBT benefits over the summer is a first-of-its-kind, game-changing intervention to reduce child hunger in the United States,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By providing low-income families with a simple benefit over the summer months, USDA is using an evidenced-based solution to drive down hunger and ensure no child has to miss a meal.”

Streno said about 200,000 people live at or below the poverty level in the 18 East Tennessee counties the food bank serves.

This P-EBT summer food funding is expected to impact about 768,000 children in Tennessee if they all use the benefits, according to the USDA.

Streno said it will be a huge help but it still won't be enough to fully feed children over the summer.

That's where organizations like Second Harvest come in.

"Right now our agencies are reporting less people there, which is a great thing," said Streno. "But we also know that when the stimulus [checks end] and when our normal gets back to whatever new normal we have, we'll still be providing food to many, many families in East Tennessee."

Ending childhood hunger won't happen overnight, but Streno hopes this new funding, and the food bank's programs, can help.

"We care about hungry men, women and children. Seniors are hit hard, too. So we'll be here for a long time, unfortunately," said Streno.