The Department of Agriculture is funneling $750 million into the nation’s school lunch program, a move it says is driven by the need to “keep pace with food and operational costs.”
The move comes by way of a midyear adjustment to the Summer Food Service Program, which USDA allowed schools to utilize this year to take advantage of higher reimbursement rates. By law, USDA says the summer rates adjust for inflation every January.
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the money should “help allow school meal programs to continue meeting their mission of giving children the nourishment they need to grow, learn, and thrive.”
“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,” he said.
In a release, USDA said the adjustment “is well-timed to ensure the purchasing power of schools keeps pace with the cost of living.” The money, the department added will enable schools to “stretch their operating budgets further.”
According to USDA calculations, the funding boost works out to about 25 additional cents per lunch. The reimbursement rate under SFSP was already 15% higher than standard free lunch reimbursement, but the new money will boost that increase to about 22%.
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The announcement represents the second infusion of major funding into the school lunch program in less than a month. In December, USDA cited supply chain issues in its announcement of $1.5 billion in total relief for school lunch programs. That funding, taken from USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp., was split between state distribution, a $200 million fund for food purchases, and a $300 million program for domestically grown food purchases by states.
USDA has also extended several waivers for the current school year, including a September announcement to allow flexibility for schools unable to meet certain meal requirements due to supply chain issues.
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