School meals are associated with improved nutrition and health for millions of US children, but school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted children’s access to school meals. Two policy approaches, the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which provided the cash value of missed meals directly to families on debit-like cards to use for making food purchases, and the grab-and-go meals program, which offered prepared meals from school kitchens at community distribution points, were activated to replace missed meals for children from low-income families. This study aimed to assess the proportion of eligible youths who were reached by P-EBT and grab-and-go meals, the amount of meals or benefits received, and the cost to implement each program. Among 30 million youths eligible for free or reduced-price meals, grab-and-go meals reached an estimated 8.0 million (27%) and P-EBT reached 26.9 million (89%). The grab-and-go school meals program distributed 429 million meals per month in spring 2020, and the P-EBT program distributed $3.2 billion in monthly cash benefits, equivalent to 1.1 billion meals. Among those receiving benefits, the mean monthly benefit was larger for grab-and-go school meals ($148; range across states, $44-$176) compared with P-EBT ($110; range across states, $55-$114). Costs per meal delivered were lower for P-EBT ($6.46; range across states, $6.41-$6.79) compared with grab-and-go school meals ($8.07; range across states, $2.97-$15.27). The P-EBT program had lower public sector implementation costs but higher uncompensated time costs to families (eg, preparation time for meals) compared with grab-and-go school meals. In this economic evaluation, both the P-EBT and grab-and-go school meal programs supported youths’ access to food in complementary ways when U.S. schools were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to June 2020.
Published: August 2022
Journal: JAMA Network Open
Authors: Kenney EL, Walkinshaw LP, Shen Y, Fleischhacker SE, Jones-Smith J, Bleich SN, Krieger JW
Rapid Health Impact Assessment on Changes to School Nutrition Standards to Align with 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for AmericansThe national school breakfast and lunch programs administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are cornerstone federal nutrition assistance programs. School meals are one of the healthiest sources of foods for school-age children, which is significant as some children receive up to half of their daily calories at school. Policy opportunities in 2023 More