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Supply chain, staffing woes continue for school nutrition professionals

The latest School Nutrition Association survey reveals that many programs are still struggling with labor and product procurement.
school nutrition staff
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The School Nutrition Association (SNA) has released the results of its 2021 Supply Chain Survey, which show that a majority of the 1,212 school meal program directors surveyed are still struggling with product procurement, labor shortages and more.

The survey revealed that the top three challenges, cited by over 98% of respondents, are menu items unavailable in sufficient quantities, supplies and packaging unavailable in sufficient quantities; and menu items being discontinued by a manufacturer.

Over 96% of respondents also said they’re experiencing challenges with suppliers not carrying enough menu items needed to meet nutrition standards, such as whole-grain, low-sodium and low-fat options.

Many school nutrition programs are also grappling with labor shortages. Nearly all (95%) of respondents said that staff shortages are a challenge for their program, and almost 90% of school districts serving more than 25,000 students said labor shortages are a "significant challenge."

Just under half (42%) of survey respondents said that they have raised salaries in an effort to attract workers, and just under 20% of respondents said they’re offering a bonus.

For those not providing a raise or a bonus, a third said they lack the sufficient funds to provide them, and 58% say they have not been approved by district administrators.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reimbursing schools for free meals at the higher Summer Food Service Program rate this school year, food costs are still a concern for school nutrition professionals. Only about half of respondents said that reimbursement rates are enough to cover the costs of producing a meal, while 36% say the lunch reimbursement rate is insufficient and 33% say that breakfast reimbursements are insufficient.

Almost all (97%) of respondents said that they are challenged by higher costs and just under 40% of respondents said that they closed the 2020-2021 school year with an overall net loss.

Given the numerous challenges school nutrition professionals are still facing due to the pandemic, the SNA is requesting that the USDA extend the pandemic school nutrition waivers through the 2022-2023 school year. These waivers are currently set to expire at the end of June.

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