By Mike Dorning
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced plans Wednesday for $1.5 billion in aid to address supply-chain disruptions bedeviling school meal programs as students return to classrooms.
School cafeterias across the country have been struggling with product shortages, delivery delays and difficulties finding workers as they staff back up after the pandemic hiatus. The Agriculture Department earlier this month announced it would give schools more leeway on minimum nutrition standards for federally subsidized meals amid spot shortages of ingredients.
The department said in a statement the aid would fund procurement of agricultural commodities and technical assistance from USDA staff.
Vilsack also announced another $500 million in aid to address disruptions in agricultural supply chains, including transportation bottlenecks, $500 million in drought aid and $500 million to bolster defenses against African Swine Fever, a livestock disease that devastated China’s hog herds and has now surfaced in the Dominican Republican and Haiti.
“The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every stage of our food supply chain, from commodity production through processing and delivery,” Vilsack said in a statement.
Vilsack is funding the aid through the credit line of the Commodity Credit Corporation, a Depression era entity that former President Donald Trump also used to pay for trade aid for farmers. The step allows him to provide funding without seeking approval from Congress.