The Biden Administration announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide nearly $1 billion in additional funding to schools to support the purchase of American-grown foods for their meal programs. The department also applauds the President’s recent signing of the Keep Kids Fed Act, which equips schools, summer meal sites, and childcare food programs with extra resources so they can continue serving children through school year 2022-2023. Both actions are a response to the significant challenges child nutrition program operators continue to face, such as high food costs and supply chain disruptions.
“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 we are thankful for Congress stepping up to ease some of their burdens,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “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.”
The $943 million boost from the department is provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. 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 Keep Kids Fed Act will also provide assistance to program operators across the country by:
• 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.
This new authority does not allow all students to eat school meals free of charge in school year 2022-2023. Nonetheless, the department will continue providing other program flexibilities within its existing authority, such as:
• Equipping schools and program operators to quickly respond to health-related safety issues by offering grab-and-go and/or parent-pickup of meals; and
• Extending deadlines for districts to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows schools serving many high-need students to provide all meals for free without collecting applications from families.
For next school year, in most school districts, families will need to complete an application through their school to determine if their household is eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, as was done before the pandemic. USDA is also supporting the expansion of direct certification, which uses existing data to certify children for free or reduced-price meals without an additional application.
All states are required to directly certify students for free meals if their household receives SNAP benefits, and some states also directly certify for free and reduced-price meals based on participation in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations or Medicaid. States that are interested in participating in the Direct Certification for Medicaid demonstration project are invited to respond to the current request for applications, which closes Sept. 30, 2022. In school year 2019-2020, 1.4 million students received free and reduced-price meals thanks to direct certification through Medicaid.
“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,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary of food, nutrition and consumer services. “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.”