Spending on USDA’s two major school nutrition programs dropped from 2019 to 2021 as other programs filled pandemic-related gaps

This is a bar chart showing expenditures on various child nutrition programs in fiscal years 2019-21.

The USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) typically make up the largest share of child nutrition program (CNP) expenditures. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, before the Coronavirus (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 CNP in that year. As a result of pandemic-related disruptions to school operations beginning in the second half of FY 2020, spending on the two programs declined to $13.9 billion in FY 2020 and $12.4 billion in FY 2021, making up about 43 percent of the $32.5 billion spent on CNP in FY 2020 and about 22 percent of the $56.7 billion spent in FY 2021. These declines were in part due to many schools transitioning to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the creation of the temporary Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program (P-EBT), which increased CNP expenditures. Spending on SFSP increased from nearly $500 million in FY 2019 (about 2 percent of CNP expenditures) to $10.7 billion in FY 2021 (about 19 percent of CNP expenditures). P-EBT spending reached $10.7 billion in FY 2020 (about 33 percent of CNP expenditures) and $28.3 billion in FY 2021 (about 50 percent of CNP expenditures). Although spending on the Child and Adult Care Food Program was relatively stable across the three years, the program’s share of CNP spending declined from about 16 percent in FY 2019 to 7 percent in FY 2021 as overall expenditures increased. This chart is based on data available as of April 2022 that is subject to revision and made available on the USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Child Nutrition Programs topic page, updated August 2022.

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