USDA looks to keep healthy meals in school with $1.5 billion in additional resources

Even school cafeterias are feeling the supply chain crunch. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has declared this “National School Lunch Week.” He has also recently announced more than a billion dollars to address the food shortage.

Processed smiley-face fries were on the menu at Riverdale Elementary, because they could not get the fresh sweet potatoes they prefer to order.

Secretary Vilsack says that he is hoping to address the food shortages facing schools with $1.5 billion dollars in additional resources.

“We’ve provided a lot of flexibility for school districts. We’ve tried to adjust the standards that they have to meet. We’ve provided technical assistance so they understand the challenges and opportunities they have in terms of contracting,” the Secretary explains.

USDA has also established supply chain resources through the Commodity Credit Corporation for producers and plans to hold a meeting this week with food processors and the School Nutrition Association to determine how those funds should be spent.

“We look forward to working with folks across the supply chain to figure out how best to use those resources to address if it’s a pallet shortage, if it’s a truck driver shortage, if it’s whatever the shortage is might be how we might be able to use the resources we have now,” he states.

He is also part of a new supply chain task force created by the White House: “We’re looking at the sort of the macro piece of this. The Commerce Department is obviously engaged and a number of other cabinets, Department of Labor is engaged, and we’ll be working collaboratively to try to address the workforce shortage issue.”

It is also National Farm-to-School Month, which Vilsack says highlights the importance of local supply chains.

“This is a school that understands and appreciates that connection, literally millions of dollars of the budget that is used by school districts, this school district, used to basically funded purchase from local producers, and that supports a much more resilient food supply system,” he adds.

USDA has also awarded $50 million dollars to school districts across the country to help update technology systems, as part of the solution for workforce shortages.


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