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Federal Government Helps Cover Florida's School Nutrition Program During Pandemic

Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried
Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried

During a media event at the Florida Capitol on Tuesday (July 6) Tallahassee State Representative Alison Tant said many of Florida's public school food service staff and teachers kept their students fed during the pandemic.

"They were providing food 3 and 4 times a week. They were getting on school buses and taking food to children and their families throughout the pandemic and especially at this time last year when there was a lot of fear and confusion."

The resulting cost to the school districts was estimated at $262 million. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, said she asked Governor Ron DeSantis for help covering that expense.

"So we sent at least one if not two letters to the governor asking for money to be allocated to the school nutrition program and never received a response back from the governor."

So Fried said she appealed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and got a better response.

"We are providing $93 million to our Florida schools for pandemic loss reimbusement and this is coming from the federal government."

Fried said some of that money has already been sent with the rest to follow this week.
After the event in front of Fried's office, news organizations asked the governor's office to comment. A spokesperson acknowledged receiving one of Fried's reimbusement request letters this past summer, but said it had been dismissed as a "political ploy." Fried, a Democrat, is running to unseat Republican DeSantis as Florida governor in next year's election.

(Note: On July 8, WFSU received this statement from Jason Mahon, deputy communications director in the Executive Office of Governor Ron DeSantis:)

Governor DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran have taken unprecedented steps to make sure schools have been able to respond to the Pandemic.

  • The school districts have directly received over $9 billion in ESSER funds from the CARES Act, CRRSA Act, and ARP Act, including funds that support school lunch programs.
  • Governor DeSantis allocated more than $1.4 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to keep schools open and make sure they could cover their expenses, including providing services directly to students such as school meals, even when they had a reduction of in-person student attendance.
  • The $93.2 million that Commissioner Fried highlighted was not a unilateral act by the Department of Agriculture. The funding involved a budget amendment, which was supported by the Governor’s Office.

You accurately stated that a Governor’s Spokesperson said this a “political ploy,” but that is not enough context. While Commissioner Fried says she sent letters to the Governor, the first of which came around September 2020, the Governor and Commissioner Corcoran began providing financial support and flexibilities to the school districts for issues like food and nutrition in March 2020.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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