TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is providing $93.2 million in federal emergency relief funding to Florida schools impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida school districts lost $262 million in nutrition funding due to COVID-19 in the 2020 school year. FDACS oversees Florida’s $1.3 billion school lunch and breakfast programs, helping feed nearly 3 million children 319 million meals a year.
Commissioner Fried made the announcement at a press conference joined by State Representative Allison Tant (HD-9); Martina Brawer, Executive Director, Florida School Nutrition Association; and Cindy Huddleston, Senior Policy Analyst and Attorney, Florida Policy Institute. In total, 414 School Food Authorities in 66 school districts and the School Food Authority for Jefferson County, as well as the laboratory schools at Florida A&M University and Florida Atlantic University, will receive $93,203,182.40. This also includes 128 private, non-profit, and charter schools, and residential childcare institutions. The recipients are National School Lunch Program (NLSP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) operators. The funding began to be distributed the week of June 28, 2021.
VIDEO: A livestream of today’s press conference may be viewed here.
“Healthy nutrition is so critical to our children, because without food in our schools, they can’t succeed in school, which means they can’t succeed in life. COVID-19 harmed our schools to the tune of $262 million in lost school nutrition funding, meaning schools would have to make some really tough choices. Governors in other states had used CARES Act funding to support school nutrition, but unfortunately here in the state of Florida, that didn’t happen – so we went directly to the USDA to help ensure that Florida’s children wouldn’t go hungry,” said Commissioner Nikki Fried. “I’m excited to announce that we are providing $93 million in federal funding to our Florida schools, and we’re thankful to the USDA, Congress, and President Biden for listening to our call to support school nutrition in Florida, and to our frontline school nutrition professionals for their efforts. With one million children in Florida food insecure, and 71 percent of school meals being free or reduced-price, we can’t afford any interruption in school nutrition.
“One of the reasons this is important to me personally is that my mother was one of eight children, born in the height of the Great Depression – so I’m one generation away from food insecurity,” said State Representative Allison Tant. “In Tallahassee, one out of three children go hungry; we’re the most food-insecure county in Florida. I’d like to thank our frontline workers in the food and nutrition profession who stepped up when we were all so uncertain this pandemic and what its impacts would be. I want to thank Commissioner Fried for going directly to the USDA to get funds for this, as food insecurity has lasting impacts on humanity.”
“Thank you Commissioner Fried for your ongoing support of the school lunch program – before this pandemic started, she was already a big supporter of school nutrition. I’d like to thank and praise the school nutrition professionals throughout Florida who basically reinvented the school lunch when this massive public health crisis happened,” said Martina Brawer of the Florida School Nutrition Association. “They figured out new menus, how to repackage and distribute, and with the help of bus drivers and custodians, how to continue to feed Florida’s children. We’re very excited about seeing kids face to face in the classroom, and continuing to feed them healthy breakfasts and lunch.”
“I’d like to give a big thanks to Commissioner Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for securing these funds for Florida schools who, as we all know, are on the front line of fighting child hunger – yet facing a loss of millions of dollars in federal funding due to the pandemic,” said Cindy Huddleston of the Florida Policy Institute. “Food hardship has hit children particularly hard during COVID-19. Food insecurity continues to wreak havoc on kids; in the latest census data, 13 percent of adults with children in Florida report that their kids weren’t eating enough because of the lack of money to buy food – a much higher figure than before the pandemic. This funding is very important to all Floridians – it responds to the alarming growth in food insecurity among children, and prioritizes school nutrition for Florida’s children.”
Background: When schools closed early in March 2020 due to COVID-19, Florida school districts lost $262 million in funding from nutrition reimbursement and sales. Commissioner Fried requested on September 14, 2020 and again on December 4, 2020 that the Governor use a portion of the state’s CARES Act funding to support school districts and nutrition providers, and to prevent staff reductions and meal service changes due to financial hardship. Governors in California ($112 million), North Carolina ($75 million), Virginia ($3 million), and other states had used CARES Act funding for this purpose. With no response received from the Governor, FDACS requested pandemic emergency relief funding from the USDA, which was approved on May 21, 2021.
As authorized by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021[ ], the U.S. Department of Agriculture was directed to provide funds to states administering NSLP and SBP through the Child Nutrition Emergency Operational Costs Reimbursement Program to provide local operators with additional reimbursements for operating costs they incurred during the public health emergency. FDACS, whose Child Nutrition Emergency Operational Costs Reimbursement Program implementation plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will provide reimbursement funds to local child nutrition program operators whose revenues declined or were temporarily interrupted during the early months of the pandemic due to COVID-19 related restrictions and closures. The relief provided by these reimbursements is intended to help address the shortfalls identified by FDACS in August 2020 and ensure that program operators are in the best position to rebuild while continuing to serve their communities. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.
About the Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness: The FDACS Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness conducts, supervises and administers child nutrition and commodity food distribution programs that are carried out using state or federal funds. We provide outreach, guidance and training to child nutrition program sponsors, schools, school food service directors, parents and teacher organizations, and students about the benefit of fresh food produced in Florida. Our mission is to ensure that every child in Florida has access to a healthy, nutritious meal each day; increase awareness and consumption of Florida’s agricultural commodities; reduce food insecurity among Florida’s most vulnerable populations; and encourage healthy lifestyle among Florida residents.