Start Date: September 2020

ID #: CAS073

Organization: President and Fellows of Harvard College

Project Lead: Sara Bleich, PhD

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In the next year, an estimated 1 in 4 children will experience food insecurity (up from 1 in 6, pre-pandemic), disproportionately impacting children in low-income households and racial/ethnic minorities. To mediate loss of school meals during closures and reduce COVID-19 exposure, Congress authorized the USDA to permit local education authorities to apply approaches from the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option during school closures. Without question, all schools are grappling with logistical and financial challenges. However, urban districts, which serve more low income, English language learner, and/or Black and Latinx students and have lower per pupil funding relative to suburban districts, face unique challenges that could exacerbate health inequities. The goal of this mixed-methods research is to identity financial and operational issues facing urban school food infrastructure during COVID-19 as well as expected challenges and future solutions. This project focuses on the nation’s 12 largest school US districts, represented by the Urban School Food Alliance: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, DeKalb County, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Philadelphia. The specific aims are to: 1) calculate additional new costs associated with the switch from regular meal service to summer meals for food and implementation; and 2) understand school district administrator perspectives on the implementation challenges associated with reopening and how these new feeding approaches will impact schools’ financial health and organizational structure.

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