Millions of low-income schoolchildren have gone almost an entire semester without receiving federal payments to help their families buy groceries months after Congress authorized the aid — even as child hunger reaches record highs in the U.S.

Congress first established the payments in March to replace the free or subsidized meals that students are missing while schools are closed or virtual during the pandemic. But lawmakers waited until the program was set to expire Oct. 1 to extend the aid for the current school year. The USDA then took several weeks to write guidelines for states to hand out the money.

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