USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the distribution of up to $1.5 billion to states and school districts to help school meal program operators deal with the challenges of supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic. The funding is being made available through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, through which USDA will provide $1 billion for schools to purchase food for their meal programs and another $300 million for states to purchase foods to be distributed to schools. An additional $200 million will be used for cooperative agreements to purchase local foods for schools with a focus on buying from historically underserved producers.
Specifically, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is providing $1 billion to states for cash payments, known as Supply Chain Assistance funds, that school districts can use to purchase foods for their school meal programs. The funding can be used by school districts to purchase unprocessed and minimally processed domestic food such as fresh fruit, milk, cheese, frozen vegetables and ground meat. Each state will allocate the funds to schools based on student enrollment, with a minimum amount per district to ensure that small schools aren’t left behind.
To strengthen local food supply chains, states have the option of using up to 10% of the Supply Chain Assistance funds to make bulk purchases of local food and then distributing these foods to schools for use in their meal programs. States also have the option of targeting the funds to areas of highest need by limiting distribution to school districts where a quarter or more of students are from low-income households.
Meanwhile, USDA will award up to $200 million to states for food assistance purchases of domestic local foods for distribution to schools through the Agricultural Marketing Service’s new Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program. This program is designed to strengthen the food system for schools by helping to build a fair, competitive, and resilient local food chain and expanding local and regional markets with an emphasis on purchasing from historically underserved producers and processors.
Finally, USDA will also purchase about $300 million in 100% domestically grown and produced food products, known as USDA Foods, for states to distribute to schools to offset the impact of disruptions to their normal supply chains. Conducting market research and working with USDA’s qualified small to large vendors, USDA has identified a large list of available products and states will be able to order these additional foods within the coming weeks, with deliveries to occur as soon as possible.
“Now, more than ever, America’s children need access to healthy and nutritious foods and our school nutrition professionals play a huge role in making that happen,” Vilsack says. “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. 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.”