Supply chain crisis pinches school lunches, ability to pay

Written by on October 20, 2021

Supply chain crisis pinches school lunches, ability to pay

By Chloe Nouvelle

October 20, 2021

More meals and a lag between delivery and reimbursement have some Lehigh Valley school districts getting creative when it comes to providing breakfasts and lunches during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

WALNUTPORT, Pa. – Supply chain issues are presenting both a logistical and financial challenge to some Lehigh Valley school districts. This comes at a time when school meal service has been expanded to serve more children. 

A pandemic-era USDA program has allowed schools to offer breakfast and lunch to students at no cost, regardless of family income, essentially making free school meals available to all students in districts that participate in the federal program. 

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In the Lehigh Valley, that includes the Northern Lehigh School District

“We’re feeding a significantly larger group of students for breakfast and probably about 12% more for lunch,” said Susan Bahnick, director of food services at Northern Lehigh School District.

But Bahnick explained there’s often a lag in time between when schools like hers receive food deliveries and when they’re able to pay for them with federal funding. 

“The federal government hasn’t changed their way of how you get your reimbursement,” said Bahnick. “Which means you have to wait until the end of the month; you have to file the claim and then you have to wait for your reimbursement.”

At the same time, costs are on the rise. Not just because Northern Lehigh is serving more meals, but supply chain bottlenecks and supplier issues have led to increased costs for the district. 

And on top of that, Bahnick also needs school board approval to pay her vendor bills, which means suppliers may wait 45 days or longer to be paid. 

It’s a wait that’s too long for some. 

“Some of the vendors don’t want to deal with that right now,” Bahnick said. 

So, Bahnick is left to fill in the gaps. At times, that means trips to Sam’s Club, Restaurant Depot and the local grocery store.

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