CHICAGO. The Agriculture Department is committing up to $ 1.5 billion to help school feeding programs amid a supply chain crisis, Agriculture Minister Tom Vilsack said Friday.
Procurement of large quantities of food has become difficult due to supply delays, shortages of certain foods, high costs and labor shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The USDA is seeking funding from Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), providing schools with $ 1 billion to buy food for their nutrition programs and another $ 500 million to purchase local food for distribution to schools, Vilsack said.
“This would translate into a 5 percent increase in what school districts typically eat,” said Vilsack of Gourmet Gorilla, a food service company that prepares 40,000 meals a day for schools in the Chicago area.
“The scarcity made meal planning impossible,” said Colletta Hines Newell, director of the Arlington Heights 25th School District outside Chicago, during an audition session with the secretary.
“We came up with six different substitutes if they can’t get a hamburger,” she said. “Sometimes they can’t get any of them.”
When goods are available, prices can be significantly higher, she said.
“I went from a regular 22 cents hamburger to what I said the other day, ‘Come on, buy this hamburger.’ It was $ 1.86, ”she said.
The 1930s CCC was commonly used to provide subsidies to farmers after natural disasters and more recently after the Trump administration’s trade war and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The CCC gives the USDA broad authority to make direct payments to farmers at low crop prices.
The number of hungry Americans is still higher than before the pandemic, and the Biden administration has sought to increase funding for food stamps and school feeding programs.
The funds should go on sale in January.