U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced an adjustment in school meal reimbursements that will give schools an additional 25 cents per lunch, putting an estimated $750 million more into school meal programs across the nation this year and helping them keep pace with food and operational costs while ensuring children continue to receive healthy meals at school.
School lunch reimbursement rates usually do not increase during the school year, but this year, due to the pandemic, USDA has allowed schools to benefit from the highest rates available, which are normally reserved for the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). By law, these summer rates adjust for inflation annually in January.
At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, the SFSP lunch reimbursement rate for participating schools was already 15% higher than the standard reimbursement for a free lunch and with this most recent increase—prompted by higher food costs and other circumstances—schools will be receiving 22% more for school lunches than they would under normal conditions.
The move follows other recent initiatives by USDA to assist school meal programs stuggling with the current pandemic and economic environment, including the announcement late last year of the distribution of up to $1.5 billion to states and school districts to help their meal program operators deal with the challenges of supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic.
“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,” Vilsack said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “The Biden-Harris Administration is doing everything we can, and these higher meal reimbursements will help allow school meal programs to continue meeting their mission of giving children the nourishment they need to grow, learn, and thrive.”