Major School Nutrition Program Spending Declined During Pandemic

Fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden. Courtesy of Getty Images and NIFA.

USDA’s National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program typically make up the largest share of child nutrition program expenditures. In fiscal year 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, spending on the two programs amounted to about $18.7 billion, nearly 80 percent of the $23.6 billion spent on all child nutrition programs that year. However, school disruptions during the pandemic led to a decline in spending, to $13.9 billion in 2020 and $12.4 billion in 2021. The declines were partly due to many schools transitioning to the Summer Food Service Program and creating the temporary Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program. Spending on the summer food program increased from nearly $500 million in 2019 to $10.7 billion in 2021. P-EBT spending reached $10.7 billion in 2020 and $28.3 billion in 2021. Although spending on the Child and Adult Care Food Program was relatively stable across the three years, the program’s share of child nutrition program spending declined from about 16 percent in 2019 to seven percent in 2021 as overall expenditures increased.