The program, Pandemic-EBT, aims to compensate for the declining reach of school meals by placing their value on electronic cards that families can use in grocery stores. But collecting lunch lists from thousands of school districts, transferring them to often outdated state computers and issuing specialized cards has proved much harder than envisioned, leaving millions of needy families waiting to buy food.
Congress approved the effort in mid-March as part of the Families First act, its first major virus relief package. By May 15, only about 15 percent of eligible children had received benefits, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Just 12 states had started sending money, and Michigan and Rhode Island alone had finished.
Among pandemic-related hardship, child hunger stands out for its urgency and symbolic resonance — after decades of exposés and reforms, a country of vast wealth still struggles to feed its young. So vital are school meals in some places, states are issuing replacement benefits in waves to keep grocers from being overwhelmed.
The lag between congressional action and families buying food in many places is less a story of bureaucratic indifference than a testament to the convoluted nature of the American safety net.
“This is why we need a federal nutrition safety net — hunger does not have state borders,” said Crystal FitzSimons of the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington advocacy group.
About a dozen states are seeing an uptick in new virus cases, bucking the national trend of staying steady or seeing decreases — and at least half of the states seeing more infections were part of an early wave of reopenings in late April and early May.
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are among the states that have seen recent increases in newly reported cases, several weeks after moving to reopen. Arkansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma, which did not have statewide stay-at-home orders but began reopening businesses, are also reporting increases in new cases.
The Washington, D.C., region, which has been locked down for weeks, also saw a jump in new cases as the city approached a planned reopening on Friday.
The new numbers could reflect increased testing capacity in some places, although they are also an indication that the virus’s grip on the country is far from over. Experts have warned that opening too early could lead to a second wave. Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies unit, warned at a press briefing on Monday that easing social-distancing measures too soon could allow the virus to bounce back quickly and hit “a second peak” in many nations.
Some of the hardest-hit states, like New York and New Jersey, have reported steep downward trends. Other states, such as Oregon and Pennsylvania, are also showing signs of progress.
The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange reopened on Tuesday, though at a reduced head count to allow…
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