By Christopher Walljasper
CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Agriculture Department is providing up to $1.5 billion to help school meal programs weather the supply chain crunch, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Friday.
Procuring large amounts of food has become difficult because of delays in shipments, a lack of certain products, high food costs and labor shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
USDA is tapping the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) for funding, providing $1 billion for schools to purchase food for their meal programs and another $500 million for the purchase of local foods to be distributed to schools, Vilsack said.
“This will result in a 5% increase in what school districts normally have available,” Vilsack said at Gourmet Gorilla, a food service company that prepares 40,000 meals to schools in the Chicago area.
The 1930s-era CCC has generally been tapped to provide subsidies for farmers, and gives USDA broad authority to make direct payments to growers when crop prices are low.
The number of Americans without enough food to eat remains higher than before the pandemic, and the Biden administration has sought to ramp up funding for food stamps and school meal programs.
The funds should be available starting in January.
(Reporting by Christopher Walljasper; Writing by Caroline Stauffer and Mark Porter)