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From the Kitchen to the Congress: A Child Nutrition Reauthorization Blog

Equipment Needed

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One of the items school nutrition professionals identified as a needed imporvement to the school nutrition programs through child nutrition reauthorization this year is funding for school foodservice equipment, whether to purchase new equipment or to maintain and repiar existing equipment. In response to the need, a school foodservice equipment grant program is being debated as part of the Senate econimc recovery and stimulus plan. The proposal calls for a grant program of $198 million to be made available through states to school district nutrition programs. 

Because several Senators and columnists have questioned the school foodservice equipment grant program as an item that may not belong in the stimulus bill, we thought we'd take a closer look at why such a grant program is needed and what effect it could actually have with regard to job creation and preventing job loss:

  • Nationally, many school districts are waiting to replace aged and outdated foodservice equipment due to lack of funds. In some school districts, the foodservice equipment is approximately 30 to 40 years old.
  • Participation in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program is rising as the economy worsens.  Despite increased participation, the school nutrition programs still struggle to break even as the average cost of preparing a school meal is $2.90, according to a September 2008 report by the School Nutrition Association while the federal government only reimburses $2.57 per free meal. This leaves nothing to put away in savings as funds for repairing or purchasing needed foodservice equipment that may cost tens of thoudands of dollars.
  • In some parts of the country, school districts must replace certain equipment items, such as deep fryers, with more expensive items such as convection ovens, in order to meet requirements set by state nutrition guidelines and local school wellness policies that prohibit fried foods. No funds are availabel at the state or local level to cover the cost of replacing this equipment.
  • Foodservice equipment manufacturers are facing the prospect of layoffs as commercial foodservice establishments cut back on new equipment purchases. A grant program for school foodservice equipment will generate job creation and prevent layoffs among the many U.S manufacturers of foodservice equipment such as those companies that make commercial ovens, steam tables, serving lines, refrigerators, warewashers, and other much need foodservice equipment.
  • School nutrition programs that are striving to cook more meals from scratch and depend less on processed foods are finding they do not have the funds to purchase refrigerators, convection ovens and prep tables necessary for handling raw produce and other fresh food items.

In the early 1980's Congress eliminated funding for foodservice equipment for schools. Many school districts have not been able to replace their cooking equipment since that time. Whether as part of the stimulus or part of child nutrition reauthorization, Congress can and should take the opportunity now to both boost the demand for these manufactured items while at the same time providing schools with the equipment they need to prepare even more healthful meals in school kitchens.

Take action now tell you Senators that school foodservice equipment funding is imperative.