Education Funding

Citing Supply Chain Issues, Inflation, USDA Boosts Funding for School Meals

By Evie Blad — January 10, 2022 2 min read
Second grader Amado Soto eats his lunch socially distanced from his fellow students in the cafeteria at Perez Elementary School during the coronavirus pandemic on Dec. 3, 2020, in Brownsville, Texas.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will offer an unusual midyear increase to the reimbursements it provides for school meals, citing challenges related to inflation and supply chain interruptions that have made it difficult for schools to purchase food.

Schools will receive an additional 25 cents per lunch, the agency announced Friday, an increase of about $750 million nationally.

The move comes as school meal programs face unprecedented challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including recruiting and retaining staff and work force interruptions caused by quarantines. Those concerns combined with the logistical issues of serving meals while maintaining virus precautions have strained schools’ nutrition departments, which operated on thin margins before the national crisis.

The funding boost comes on top of a previous waiver granted in April that allowed schools to collect reimbursements at the higher rates set for summer meal programs during the school year—raising the money they get per meal served by about 15 percent.

Under federal regulations, those summer rates adjust for inflation every January. This year, that means schools will see the effects of the shift immediately instead of the following summer. Combined, the changes mean schools will get about 22 percent more per school lunch than they would in a typical school year, the USDA said in a news release.

“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,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The change is one of several the agency has made during the pandemic, including providing waivers that allow schools to essentially serve universal free meals and flexibility in how closely they adhere to federal nutrition standards. In December, the USDA provided $1.5 billion to states and school districts to work with local suppliers as they tackle supply chain issues.

As Education Week reported last month, the same supply chain issues that have made it difficult for districts to purchase items like paper and classroom furniture have also affected their ability to buy food.

“In a national survey by the School Nutrition Association, 98 percent of food service directors said their top three problems right now are a lack of available menu items, lack of packaging and supplies, and menu items getting discontinued by suppliers,” that story said. “Three-quarters of respondents said that higher costs of items—a sign of inflationary pressures in the economy—are creating significant challenges for them, too.”

The School Nutrition Association, which represents cafeteria directors around the country, praised the USDA reimbursement change Friday.

“This rate adjustment delivers desperately-needed relief to school meal programs, struggling with tight budgets that are stressed by rising pandemic costs and supply chain disruptions,” SNA President Beth Wallace said in a statement.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding More Federal Aid Is Coming for Schools Struggling to Buy Food Due to Supply-Chain Crisis
The $1.5 billion USDA infusion is the second in several months to help schools purchase food amid shortages and price increases.
2 min read
Stacked Red Cafeteria trays in a nearly empty lunch room.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding School Districts Are Starting to Spend COVID Relief Funds. The Hard Part Is Deciding How
A new database shows districts' spending priorities for more than $122 billion in federal aid are all over the place.
8 min read
Educators delivering money.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding The Political Spotlight on Schools' COVID Relief Money Isn't Going Away
Politicians and researchers are among those scrutinizing the use and oversight of billions in pandemic education aid.
7 min read
Business man with brief case looking under a giant size bill (money).
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Here's How Schools Can Use Federal COVID Aid to Solve Bus Driver and Other Transportation Woes
The Education Department outlines districts' options for using relief money to solve nationwide problems in getting kids to and from school.
2 min read
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools and day care centers on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, in Ambridge, Pa.
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School in Ambridge, Pa., earlier this year on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools.
Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP