USDA Waiver Addressing Supply Chain Challenges: What it Means for Your District

Supply chain and USDA Waiver Chat with Katy Hoyng MS, RDN, LD, SNS     Nutrition Training Manager, LINQ
Katy Taylor Hoyng, MS, RDN, LD, SNS 
   Nutrition Training Manager, LINQ 

School nutrition professionals are some of the most resilient, creative, and resourceful people you’ll ever meet. However, the supply chain challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are making your jobs tougher than ever before.

Fortunately, the USDA recently announced a new waiver to help school nutrition programs continue feeding children during unexpected closures or running up against supply chain issues. But how does this waiver directly impact your district or school? We have your answers!

We tapped the shoulder of Katy Hoyng, Nutrition Training Manager at LINQ. Hoyng has deep roots in school nutrition; prior to joining LINQ,Hoyng was the Director of School Nutrition and a School Nutrition Dietitian for a district in Texas with over 30,000 students.

While we can’t make the supply chain issues vanish (we wish!), we can provide clarity. Hoyng breaks down exactly what you need to know.

Thank you for helping us understand these new waivers, Katy. What does this waiver mean to you? 

This is really a waiver to the State on applying fiscal action. So, they’re saying that if you happen to miss a meal component due to supply chain disruptions, the state doesn’t have to financially punish you or withhold claim funds. But again, this is up to the State

For example, milk is supposed be skim or 1%, and if it’s flavored milk, it’s supposed to be skim. But now the USDA is saying that, if your milk supplier can only get you whole chocolate milk, your state doesn’t have to take fiscal action against you for being out of compliance with the meal pattern. 

This also says to me that the vegetable subgroups can be more flexible over the course of the week. If you could only get a dark green vegetable, the state doesn’t have to take fiscal action for not meeting the other vegetable subgroups.

How would you feel about this USDA waiver as a Nutrition Director? 

When I became a Nutrition Director, I had staff members who were very frustrated by the rules imposed by the USDA. But what I would tell them is that when we’re taking federal money, we have to follow federal rules.  

If I were still a director and my state adopted this waiver, it would help me breathe a sigh of relief and I could stress a little bit less about hitting the requirements. But I would still be trying to meet the original requirements the best I could. I could sleep a little easier knowing that there wasn’t a potential for the state to come in and say, well, all those meals that you served, we’re not going to pay you for those because you were missing a food group.  

Because of the supply chain issues, they’re relaxing those rules and enabling districts to work with what they have without requiring the state to take financial action. 

What are some recommendations you have for districts all across the country? 

These waivers affect districts in different ways depending on their size, and I think of this in terms of the smaller districts. If they had to meet five vegetable subgroups a week and they’re a very small district, they might not be using full cases one subgroup because the next day they have to offer a different subgroup. 

This waiver might allow them to maximize what they do have and buy less food overall rather than cases of different subgroups going to waste. For example, if my vendor can get me broccoli this week, but they can’t get me carrots, I can serve broccoli every day this week without worrying about meeting the red/orange requirement knowing the state isn’t going to take fiscal action. 

I would also recommend that you contact your state agency to ensure your state will be implementing this waiver. If they are not implementing the waiver, ask for technical assistance or for a list of alternative vendors you can reach out to for the foods you need. Despite how difficult it can be, try to meet the requirements the best you can. 

It’s also not a bad idea to keep a log of your communications with vendors in case you need to reference them in the future.  

And finally, be easy on yourself, you’re doing the best you can.

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