The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Dec. 16 that 24 rural towns in eastern Connecticut will be receiving a demonstration grant for a pilot program designed to offer school children access to healthy meals during the summer months when they wouldn’t be receiving school lunches.

The grant money, which amounts to $60 a child per month, will be distributed to parents of low-income families in the form of a card, similar to a debit card, which can be used to purchase healthy foods at grocery stores.

The money to fund the cards comes with a $195,529 grant for the administration and operation of the program, according to a USDA press release.

The program will be based on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and run by the state Department of Social Services and Department of Education with the help of End Hunger CT!, a non-profit group.

“It makes great sense to try this pilot in northeastern Connecticut, where there is a lack of transportation to summer food sites,” said Lucy Nolan, the group’s executive director. “According to USDA, for every five dollars in SNAP benefits, there is a $9.20 economic benefit. This initiative will not only help families of kids who can’t get out to summer food sites, but it will also help the local economy.”

The announcement came three days after President Barack Obama signed into law the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which gave the USDA the authority to sponsor the Summer Food Service Program.

In a prepared statement, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee, lauded the awards.

“It is about our future, our health, and our well-being as a nation. At their very core, reducing childhood hunger and childhood obesity are also national security issues,” he said. “I have visited numerous summer food programs and seen firsthand their value. This grant will have a tremendous impact for children across Connecticut.”

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the FDA and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, also praised the grants and said it allowed the state to be part of a solution to a national problem.

“I am thrilled that Connecticut was selected to be among the first states in the country testing this new nutrition program. Child nutrition is a complicated issue in this country— there is the clear problem of too many children simply not having enough to eat, but additionally, the combination of poor nutrition and unhealthy food options has resulted in an epidemic of childhood obesity that is a danger to the health and quality of life of our kids. It is critical that we ensure the foods our children eat have the nutritional value they need to thrive, and the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children will help to do that,” she said.