The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Jan. 7 announced that it is putting an estimated $750 million towards school meal programs this year in light of “higher food costs” and “supply chain issues.”
“USDA understands that balancing the pressures of the pandemic with the need to feed children healthy and nutritious meals continue to be a priority for schools across the country,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated.
The School Nutrition Association (SNA), representing more than 50,000 school nutritional health professionals, cited supply chain disruptions and staffing shortages as early as August 2021.
With this budget, USDA expects the “purchasing power of schools” to be in line with the cost of living.
“Schools receiving these reimbursement rates can stretch their operating budgets further during these tough times, while giving families fewer meal expenses to worry about each school day,” the USDA continued in its statement.
While the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) lunch reimbursement rate for participating schools was already “15 percent higher than the standard reimbursement for a free lunch,” schools will now receive 22 percent more for school lunches than they would under normal circumstances due to inflation and “other circumstances” likely related to supply chain issues as a result of pandemic lockdown restrictions.
Schools will receive an additional 25 cents per lunch.
In a August 2021 press release, the SNA reported that “supply chain disruptions leave school meal programs scrambling to place additional orders for substitute menu items, find new vendors when orders are shorted, cancelled or delayed, and even make trips to local stores to purchase necessary food and supplies.”
“Supply chain disruptions are making it infinitely more difficult to plan and serve nutritious meals, critical to student health and success,” SNA President Beth Wallace stated, adding that schools have had to make last-minute menu changes and cut down the number of options in cafeterias.
Wallace also urged the USDA to extend pandemic school nutrition waivers through the 2022/23 school year to allow schools more flexibility in meal pattern requirements, meal times, and meal programs.
As of Jan. 10, the school waivers expire at the end of the 2021/2022 school year, according to the USDA.
While the USDA stated that the Biden administration is doing “everything [they] can” to help “school meal programs to continue meeting their mission of giving children the nourishment they need to grow, learn, and thrive,” Republicans have previously blasted the Biden administration for not addressing supply chain issues.
In October last year, a group of 160 Republican lawmakers urged the Biden administration to address supply chain issues before budgeting for social programs.