Student Well-Being

How School Lunches Are Getting a Boost From the Trade War

By Arianna Prothero — August 29, 2019 1 min read
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While there is a lot of debate over whether the Trump administration’s trade war is helping or hurting the country, K-12 public schools, it turns out, are seeing some benefits—in the form of free food.

American farmers have been caught in the middle of a volley of tariffs between the U.S., China, and other countries. The federal government has purchased more than $1 billion in agricultural goods from farmers in order to help offset the hits they’ve taken as a result of trade negotiations that have turned punitive. Most of that food is going to programs that help low-income families and communities, says the United States Department of Agriculture.

And through December, $27 million in free apples, oranges, canned kidney beans, potatoes, and pork will be distributed to schools, according to the USDA.

While it’s a small slice of the $1 billion in agricultural goods the USDA is giving away through its trade mitigation programs, it’s likely welcome relief for some schools whose meal programs often run on tight stand-alone budgets separate from other district expenses.

However, the $27 million states are getting in food to send to their schools is only a fraction of the nearly $100 million the USDA had offered to states.

Factors such as warehouse capacity and existing procurement contracts, according to the Associated Press, could be why the uptake was low. School menus are also often planned far in advance and may have already been decided on, the AP reported.

The USDA said all states were offered free food.

Most of the $1 billion in food the USDA has purchased is being channeled into the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

For the USDA to buy agricultural goods to help farmers is not necessarily a new policy—farmers often need help to offset big changes in supply and demand from year-to-year, the AP reported—but the federal effort has stepped up considerably since the trade war began.

2019 has had some ups and downs for schools, at least when it comes to providing meals for their students. School nutrition advocates were worried at the beginning of this year that funding for the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, which helps schools feed 30 million children, was in danger of lapsing during the government shutdown.

Image credit: Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.


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