2020 and 2021 were big years for access to healthy foods—in both the need and the supports provided. Let’s do a quick run down!
- Beginning in 2020, the USDA provided dozens of waivers to child nutrition programs, allowing them to serve meals that varied slightly from the meal pattern, had a higher reimbursement, and, perhaps most importantly, allowed them to serve all children at no cost. Those waivers are currently set to expire and we anticipate the perfect storm. Our food insecurity rates are still above pre-pandemic levels, economic growth is trudging along, and the costs of producing a school meal are already exceeding the higher reimbursement provided by the waivers.
- The budget included statutory changes to limit the amount of indirect costs districts can charge SNPs! For many, many years, School Nutrition Programs (SNPs) have paid significant rates of indirect costs to the districts, sometimes reaching as high as 18% of their unrestricted funds. Many times, these indirect costs have affected the fiscal solvency of the programs and required districts to pay funds back to the programs to balance their budgets.
- The budget included $40 million in nonrecurring funds for the North Carolina Feeding the Carolinas food banks. The budget also provided $10 million to support community organizations in partnership with food banks.
- The budget included $2 million in nonrecurring funds for FarmsSHARE! This amazing program was born out of the pandemic and is run by our friends at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. It provides locally sourced food boxes to families who would benefit from these resources.
- The budget included $62,500 in nonrecurring funds to support the Safe Plates Program at NC State in developing a set of standard operating procedures and trainings for unserved prepared food recovery across the state. This funding will help create consistency and clarify the regulations around recapturing unserved prepared food, allowing more programs across the state to utilize this method to reduce food insecurity and food waste. This need was originally identified by the local food councils who are involved in network of NC food councils supported by Community Food Strategies.
And that brings us to 2022. Waivers are currently scheduled to end and the state level policy changes in the last few years are coming into their first year of actual implementation. Where does that take us?
First, it’s critical that we protect the state level changes and continue to advance schools being hunger free places for children. At the same time, we need to ensure the newest policy changes work for SNPs. Do these changes help make them more sustainable and more able to fulfill their mission?
Here’s a quick review of our policy priorities for 2022:
- Promote policies that increase access to healthy food in schools and childcare centers
- Support policies that prioritize healthy, local food within the Healthy Opportunities pilots
- Support the retention of COVID flexibilities for SNAP, WIC, CACFP, and other programs
- Support policies that increase the capacity of food hubs across the state
Finally, we also need to ensure our state maximizes federal reimbursements for school meals and support our partners in the federal policy space as Build Back Better is revisited and Child Nutrition Reauthorization starts.