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USDA puts additional $750 million into school meals

An adjustment in reimbursement rates for school meals will put an additional $750 million into child nutrition programs that were expected to cost $27 billion this year, said the Agriculture Department. The adjustment came three weeks after the USDA said up to 100,000 schools would get a share of $1.5 billion dedicated to easing the impact of supply chain disruptions and the pandemic on school meals.

School lunch reimbursement rates usually do not change during the school year, but the USDA is allowing schools to benefit from the highest rates available, which are those that apply to its summer food program. The summer rates are adjusted each January for inflation.

In a survey last year, only half of school food directors said USDA reimbursements covered the cost of serving a breakfast or lunch.

“USDA understands that balancing the pressures of the pandemic with the need to feed children healthy and nutritious meals continues to be a priority for schools across the country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Lisa Davis, of the anti-hunger group Share Our Strength, said the adjustment in reimbursement rates “will help ease some of the pressures school meal programs are facing because of the pandemic.”

The $1.5 billion announced last month would be split three ways: $1 billion for schools to buy food, $300 million in the form of U.S.-produced foods for states to distribute to schools, and $200 million to states for the purchase of locally produced food for distribution to schools.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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