Statement of CSPI Deputy Director of Federal Affairs Colin Schwartz 

As part of a broader investment in agriculture, animal health, and nutrition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that up to $1.5 billion will be allocated to help schools respond to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions via the Commodity Credit Corporation. 

Throughout the pandemic, school food professionals have managed to serve millions of meals despite unprecedented challenges. USDA, as administrator of the school meals programs, has undertaken a myriad of supportive measures for schools, including a host of waivers to ensure that schools could continue to provide meals to students and receive sufficient reimbursement. In a victory for families, students, and schools alike, USDA has approved free school meals for all through June 30, 2022.  

Despite the support provided by USDA, massive supply chain disruptions and labor shortages have made providing healthy school meals for all students an immense challenge for school food professionals. It has been similarly challenging to meet nutrition standards that ensure schools provide more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with less salt and fat. Today’s announcement is welcome news to struggling operators. While specific details on how the funds will be spent are yet to come, USDA says they will “support procurement of agricultural commodities and enable USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to enhance the toolbox for school nutrition professionals.”  

We thank USDA for its investment in and commitment to protecting healthy school meals for all children. School meals are a critical safety net and provide an opportunity to support the health, well-being, and academic success of all students, regardless of family income. We encourage USDA to continue to invest in these critical programs and ensure that, even beyond the pandemic, all students can continue to receive free, healthy school meals during the school day. And we encourage Congress to quickly pass the Build Back Better Act which would significantly expand free school meals and provide food assistance for children in the summer months, provide $634 million for healthier school meals, and designate $500 million in school kitchen equipment.