Education Funding

More Federal Aid Is Coming for Schools Struggling to Buy Food Due to Supply-Chain Crisis

By Arianna Prothero — December 20, 2021 2 min read
Stacked Red Cafeteria trays in a nearly empty lunch room.
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For schools struggling to purchase food amid shortages and price increases caused by ongoing disruptions to the global supply chain, more relief from the federal government is on its way.

This is the second infusion of cash announced in the last couple of months to help school meal programs weather ongoing supply chain problems that are causing shortages in a range of industries and affecting almost all areas of school operations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $1.5 billion to states and school districts to purchase food for their school meal programs while also investing in local and domestic food producers.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts have met extraordinary challenges to ensure that every child has the food needed to learn, grow and thrive,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vislack, in a statement announcing the plan. “The food and funds USDA is distributing will help ensure schools have the resources they need to continue to serve our nation’s school children quality food they can depend on, all while building a stronger, fairer, and more competitive food system.”

States and school districts will receive $1 billion to purchase food for their school meal programs. States can choose to use 10 percent of these Supply Chain Assistant Funds to buy food in bulk from local producers, with the aim of bolstering local food supply chains. The USDA will award an additional $200 million to states to purchase locally produced food from “historically underserved producers and processors” to distribute to schools, while the USDA will purchase $300 million in domestically grown food to supply to states and schools.

The School Nutrition Association said the funds will help schools manage higher costs and provide students with more American-grown food.

“School meal programs are paying much higher prices in the scramble to place additional orders and find new vendors when their deliveries are shorted, cancelled or delayed,” said Lori Adkins, the SNA’s president-elect, in a statement.

See also

Shipping containers are stacked at the Port of Philadelphia, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.
Supplies for many school needs are stuck in shipping containers in places like the Port of Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke/AP

In September, the USDA also committed $1.5 billion to school meal programs with the goal of not only providing relief to overstretched food programs but also to boost local food supply chains.

The USDA has taken other measures to help schools as the pandemic has upended normal school meal operations and disrupted the global supply chain, including relaxing federal regulations around what foods schools must serve.

The federal government also expanded eligibility for free school meals to all students, regardless of income, during the pandemic through the end of the 2021-22 school year. While organizations like the SNA and the national teachers’ unions consider that a highly positive development for students and schools, it has increased pressure on school meal programs at the same time that supply chain disruptions are causing shortages and price increases.

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