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USDA Increases Funds for School Meals 

By: Sydney Sheffield

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $750 million in funding to school meal programs. The allocations are said to be an adjustment in school meal reimbursements to help schools, counter the supply chain problems, and inflation.

“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,” said USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release. “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.”

The pandemic allowed USDA to increase the rates during the school year, which is typically not allowed. Additionally, USDA 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. 

The schools receiving these reimbursements are now able to extend their operating budgets further. 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. Schools will also receive an additional 25 cents per lunch, leading to a 22% increase in the amount received for school lunches than they would under normal conditions.

Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength, which is focused on ending hunger and poverty, said in a statement, "First, it will help bolster the purchasing power of our nation's schools, allowing them to stretch their budgets during these uncertain times," she said. "Second, at a time when families continue to face financial strain and hardship, this will give them fewer meal expenses to worry about each day."

During the last few months, USDA provided $1 billion to schools to purchase food, as well as $300 million to states to buy food to be distributed to schools. An additional $200 million was allocated for a new program to support farmers supplying food for schools. The supply chain issues cause some panic amount those responsible for school meal programs, but USDA is ensuring schools will not be penalized if they cannot meet meal standards due. 

Check out a state-by-state reimbursement rate guide here.