On January 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an increase in federal school meals reimbursements for 2022. While reimbursement rates for school meals do not typically change during the school year, USDA is using pandemic flexibilities to ensure additional funds are available. The increase will provide an estimated $750 million more to school meal programs this year, helping school food operations deal with increased costs and supply chain disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Counties applaud this infusion of federal resources to ensure children in our communities can access healthy food at school.
Through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and National School Breakfast Program (NSBP), USDA contributes funds to provide reduced-cost or free meals to millions of low-income children nationwide. In April 2021, USDA adopted a nationwide waiver for the 2021-2022 school year allowing schools to provide free meals to all students at the more generous reimbursement rates allotted for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which operates separately during the summer months. SFSP rates are adjusted each January, and the most recent adjustment will apply to the NSLP and NSBP while they operate under the waiver, which expires June 30, 2022. As a result, schools will receive roughly 25 cents more per lunch and 14 cents more per breakfast compared to the 2021 SFSP rates.
Though the role of county governments in administering, operating and funding child nutrition programs varies, these programs support key county priorities such as improving early child development, combatting food insecurity, preventing child poverty and stimulating the local economy through the procurement process. Additionally, counties contribute funding to public schools in five states: Alaska, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia. and Tenn. Counties support policies that ensure all children have access to healthy meals at no-cost in school, at child care and during the summer months.
NACo will continue to monitor administrative action on school meals and other child nutrition programs.