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By JOHN O'CONNOR, AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — As many as 1 million Illinois schoolchildren will get more nutritious meals after state officials received an expansion of a federally subsidized pandemic-relief program, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday.

Illinois is one of 16 states that sought additional assistance from the U.

S. Agriculture Department's program. In a news conference at Washington Middle School, Pritzker said the state will more than double the benefits it had been receiving and reach an additional 200,000 children.

The program helps feed families with children who cannot regularly attend school, where they receive free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, because schools are closed to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

“A child whose family is food-insecure, has tremendous difficulty focusing on school compared to her classmates who don’t go to school hungry,” Pritzker said.

The program provides $6.82 per child per day. That's an increase of 19% over the $5.70 allowed last school year.

No registration is required. Credit-card-sized pandemic electronic benefits transfer cards will be mailed automatically to eligible families beginning next month. Those cards can be used at most major grocery stores in Illinois.

Pritzker's Public Health Department announced 1,665 confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, with 27 more deaths, bringing the total in 11 months of the pandemic to 1,177,320 cases leading to 20,330 deaths.

Infection rates have been dropping for weeks in Illinois.

In Chicago, public health officials said Tuesday that the city’s seven-day average rate of positive tests hit 3.2%, which is the lowest since COVID-19 arrived in the city.

“Everything is heading the right direction,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a vaccination event for homeless people.

COVID-19 vaccinations are averaging 56,000 a day. More than 2.25 million shots have thus far been administered, each being the first or second of two required doses for inoculation. More than 500,000 shots have been given in Chicago.

Later Tuesday, Pritzker asked the Illinois Finance Authority to develop a $15 million low-interest loan program for small cities facing huge natural gas bills after this month's extreme cold snap.

Officials explained that municipal utilities typically pay from $2 to $3 for each unit called a dekatherm. But those drawing from a pipeline running through central Illinois paid $225 per dekatherm from Feb. 13 to Feb 16.

The loan program would allow utilities to spread payments out instead of paying bills in full when they come due in the next few weeks.

___

Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed from Chicago.

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International Womens Day: With Moms Help, 9-Year-Old London Warren Publishes Book All About School And COVID Safety

CHICAGO (CBS) — To help celebrate International Women’s Day, CBS 2’s Lauren Victory on Monday introduced us to an inspiring young lady putting pen to paper.

London Warren is 9 years old and is in the fourth grade. She has many talents – including gymnastics.

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“I can spin on the bar and then go upside down,” she said.

But she also wrote and published a 30-page book with the help of her mom, April.

“I’m an author myself, so one day, London came to me and said she was interested in writing her own book,” April Warren said.

As schools around Chicago reopen for in-person learning, London wanted to help her friends understand how they can stay healthy and safe in the classroom.

Her book, “The COVID Monitor,” is about a young girl who explains to her mom how she plans to keep everyone at school safe when it reopens.

“She tells everybody to wear a mask and wash their hands,” London said.

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She’s hoping her book will help kids better understand COVID so we can finally put an end to that chapter.

9I hope to accomplish that people to listen to COVID so it can be over very fast – because it’s been going on for a whole year,” London said.

The book was also translated into Spanish – with the help of London’s dad, who is fluent himself.

“It was a family effort,” April Warren said.

And that extra family time was London’s favorite part of the publishing process —

“I got to spend time with my mom. April,” London said.

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And this inspiring mother-daughter duo is only just getting started. They are already in the process of writing a movie script for the book.

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