WASHINGTON, DC – While no school is running out of food, food supply chain issues that have been complicating school lunch programs nationwide are likely to continue throughout the rest of the school year.  And that often makes it harder for school cafeterias to source enough fresh, healthy menu items needed to meet nutrition standards, such as whole-grain, low-sodium, and low-fat options. But now, thanks to new federal funding, Rhode Island schools will have an additional $4.1 million to help deal with the challenges of supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed announced that Rhode Island school meal programs will receive an infusion of $2,800,945 through Supply Chain Assistance Funds; $786,566 through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods Purchases; and $560,189 through Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreements.  The federal funds, administered by the USDA, will provide a big helping for school nutrition programs as they work with food vendors and suppliers to get healthy, nutritious foods onto students’ plates.

“School nutrition contributes to success in the classroom and to healthy communities.  These federal funds will help school cafeterias navigate tricky supply chain issues and serve up healthy, nutritious meals,” said Senator Reed.  “Feeding students is important work and it takes a lot of advanced planning and preparation.  This pandemic has created some worldwide supply chain disruptions, unpredictability, and delivery delays.  Talented, hard-working food service staffers are dedicated to serving kids healthy, nutritious meal so they can grow and learn and I’ve been impressed at how creative and resilient they’ve been in terms of adjusting menus and budgets on the fly while still serving nutritious meals.  These added funds should help add some certainty and stability to school budgets.  I am committed to ensuring every student gets a good education and has access to healthy food and this increased federal funding will help schools throughout the state,” said Senator Reed.

School nutrition programs help alleviate childhood food insecurity, improve children’s health, and support learning in the classroom.  To help ensure that every student has access to healthy meals, Rhode Island schools offer free and reduced-price school breakfast and lunch to low-income students through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

According to the Food Research and Action Center’s School Breakfast Scorecard released in February 2021, Rhode Island saw the fifth biggest increase in the nation (6.3%) in terms of growth in the number of free and reduced-price breakfast participants.  The School Breakfast Scorecard reports that more than 28,561 Rhode Island children ate a free school breakfast on an average school day in 2019-2020 and 52,679 students participated in the NSLP.

In September, the USDA issued a waiver to provide schools more flexibility in meeting federal nutrition standards due to COVID-related supply-chain disruption.  This is in addition to a number of waivers that USDA extended in April so schools can continue providing flexible meal service options that support student’s access to nutritious meals.  All of these waivers are due to expire at the end of June.  The federal government also increased the federal reimbursement rate for school meals in July.

Senator Reed says he supports extending the pandemic-era waivers that have allowed extra flexibility and increasing federal funding for school meal programs. 

“The pandemic is not over and school cafeterias are facing some real challenges.  To help provide them with some needed certainty so they can plan ahead, I support extending waivers through the end of next school year and I will continue working to deliver funds to help school districts feed students healthy meals,” said Reed.