With an estimated 10% of the U.S. public experiencing food insecurity—creating a public health threat to the country's well-being, according to the American College of Physicians, the Biden Administration announced new funding meant to bolster school nutrition programs.
Late last week, the Administration announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide nearly $1 billion in additional funding to schools to support the purchase of American-grown foods for their meal programs. That move followed the president's June 25 signing of the Keep Kids Fed Act, which extends assistance to child nutrition program operators as they continue to face high food costs and supply-chain disruptions.
USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that the Biden Administration knows that ongoing impacts of supply chain issues and rising food costs continue to be a challenge for many schools and child nutrition operators and that the USDA is "thankful for Congress stepping up to ease some of their burdens." Vilsack added: “On our end, this funding boost is yet another step the Administration is taking to ensure every child who needs a meal, gets one. No matter the circumstances, USDA and all our partners must continue collaborating to provide our young ones with the healthy meals they count on."
A provision in the original Keep Kids Fed Act that would have maintained the pandemic-era move to allow students who qualify for reduced-price meals to receive free meals was removed during the Senate's consideration of the bill, prompting criticism from the School Nutrition Association.
"Throughout the pandemic, free school meals have ensured students are nourished and ready to learn," SNA President Beth Wallace said in a statement. "The loss of free school meals puts too many students at risk of going hungry."
The USDA said the $943 million boost to support domestic purchasing is provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. According to the USDA's website, funds will be distributed by “state agencies to schools across the country, so they can purchase domestically grown foods for their meal programs. This assistance builds on the $1 billion in Supply Chain Assistance funds USDA previously allocated in December 2021, which states can use this school year as well as next to provide schools with funding for commodity purchases.”
The USDA website listed the below key points that make up The Keep Kids Fed Act:
- Extending nationwide flexibilities to summer meal programs through September 2022, including allowing sites to continue serving meals in all areas, at no cost to families;
- Providing schools with an additional temporary reimbursement of 40 cents per lunch and 15 cents per breakfast, and child care centers with an extra 10 cents reimbursement per meal;
- Providing all family day care homes with the higher temporary reimbursement rate for school year 2022-23;
- Equipping USDA with additional flexibilities to support schools, as needed, based on their local conditions.
Supply chain woes also wreaked havoc earlier this year and is still ongoing for American infants regarding baby formula shortages, which prompted Biden to launch Operation Fly Formula.
Stacy Dean, USDA deputy undersecretary of food, nutrition, and consumer services, said in a statement that the USDA is working alongside “our child nutrition partners to support them in delivering vital, nutritious meals to tens of millions of children every school day.” Dean added: “There’s a long road ahead, but the extra support and funding for our operators will help them continue to serve our children well. We can—and will—overcome these challenges, together.”