MS to receive $17M to ‘strengthen school meal program’

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, December 25, 2021

Mississippi schools will receive more than $17 million from the $1.5 billion USDA Commodity Credit Corporation funds provided by the Biden administration to help school meal program operators.

Out of the $1 billion provided for supply chain assistant funds, Mississippi will receive $11,296,031; from the $300 million set aside for USDA foods purchases, Mississippi will receive $3,605,891; and from the $200 million spearheaded for local food for schools cooperative agreements, Mississippi will receive $2,259,206. A press release noted that “a focus on buying from historically underserved producers” is part of the plan.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the plan Nov. 17, saying the money to states and school districts will “help school meal program operators deal with the challenges of supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic.”

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“USDA’s school meal programs have a wide-reaching impact on the health and well-being of our nation’s children,” said Vilsack. “Now, more than ever, America’s children need access to healthy and nutritious foods and our school nutrition professionals play a huge role in making that happen.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts have met extraordinary challenges to ensure that every child has the food needed to learn, grow and thrive. The food and funds USDA is distributing will help ensure schools have the resources they need to continue to serve our nation’s schoolchildren quality food they can depend on, all while building a stronger, fairer, and more competitive food system.”

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is providing $1 billion to states for cash payments — known as Supply Chain Assistance funds — that school districts can use to purchase foods for their school meal programs as a relief from ongoing supply chain issues, making it easier for schools to operate successful meal programs.

The funds are expected to provide a boost in resources for up to 100,000 schools across all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including public, tribal, charter schools and nonprofit private schools as well as residential child care institutions.

Supply chain assistance funding can be used by school districts to purchase unprocessed and minimally processed domestic food such as fresh fruit, milk, cheese, frozen vegetables and ground meat. Each state will allocate the funds to schools based on student enrollment, with a minimum amount per district provided.

To strengthen local food supply chains, states have the option of using up to 10 percent of the supply chain assistance funds to make bulk purchases of local food and then distribute these foods to schools for use in their meal programs. States also have the option of targeting the funds to areas of highest need by limiting distribution to school districts where a quarter or more of students are from low-income households.

Through the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)’s new Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program, the USDA will award up to $200 million to states for food assistance purchases of domestic local foods for distribution to schools. This will  expand local and regional markets with an emphasis on purchasing from “historically underserved producers and processors.”

USDA Foods Purchases

The USDA will also purchase about $300 million in domestically grown and produced food products, known as USDA Foods, for states to distribute to schools to offset the impact of disruptions to their normal supply chains. USDA has identified a large list of available products and states will be able to order these additional foods within the coming weeks, the press release stated.

“This latest assistance is on top of a broad range of flexibilities, resources, and hands-on support USDA is providing schools to ensure supply chain disruptions like contract cancellations and increased food costs do not negatively impact the school meal programs,” the press release said.

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