Legislation would address school food supply chain shortages

Legislation would address school food supply chain shortages

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The food supply chain issues that have been complicating Alabama’s school lunch programs this fall are likely to continue throughout the rest of the school year, State Superintendent Eric Mackey said recently.

Mackey told Alabama Daily News that no school has shut down because it’s run out of food, but school menus are being adjusted.

“The situation changes on a weekly basis but no one is running out of food,” Mackey said. “We don’t think it’s going to get any worse or any better for the rest of the year, though.”

Schools in Alabama have been reporting issues about obtaining enough of certain food products since September. It is a trend seen across the nation as shortages in the workforce and supply chain problems across all sectors of the economy are hindering school nutrition programs.

One Alabama lawmaker however, plans to introduce a bill during the 2022 regular legislative session to hopefully help with the supply chain food problems.

Sen. Jack Williams, R-Wilmer, told ADN he will file again a bill that he introduced during the most recent special session for redistricting that would allow schools to bypass the regular bidding process for purchasing food from typical food vendors.

“Everything is getting harder and harder to get and coming from a farming background, I just think it would be something good for the schools and the local farms,” Williams said.

The bill would allow local school boards, “during an emergency affecting public health or safety,” to purchase goods and services related to the state’s Child Nutrition Program without going through the typical advertising or bidding process.

Mackey said he fully supports the bill and said it would allow schools to purchase food from places like Costco or Sam’s Club to fill their immediate food needs.

“The way we have to bid things is there literally are only less than a half dozen suppliers in the state that can provide food in most cases, and so we could really open up the chain if that passed,” Mackey said.

Schools would still have to maintain itemized records of all their purchases and be subject to audits by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts.

Williams said the bill wasn’t taken up during the special session simply because of the lack of time but expects smooth passage during the regular session.

Sally Smith, Executive Director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, also told ADN she was fully supportive of the bill but hopes to tweak it a little before the regular session starts to make the language broader.

“There could be other circumstances that cause supply chain disruptions like strikes, natural disasters or fuel shortages, that could disrupt the food supply chain as well, so we just want to be prepared for those scenarios as well,” Smith said.

Williams is also the sponsor of a resolution that would create a farm-to-school task force to “study and develop a farm-to-school food program facilitating the purchase of fresh vegetables and other produce from local farmers and producers by the state or local boards of education to alleviate the current food shortage in public schools in this state.”

The task force would consist of House and Senate members as well as a representative from the governor’s office, the state department of education and a representative from the director of finance’s office.

The regular session begins on Jan. 11.