Fried and DeSantis compete for credit to fund school nutrition program | News, Sports, Jobs – FORT MYERS

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried disagree on who deserves credit for funding school nutrition assistance. / File photo by Nathan Mayberg

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Governor Ron DeSantis fight over credit for school nutrition funding after Fried announced that his department had secured $ 93.2 million in federal relief funds from emergency for Florida schools affected by the COVID-19 pandemic through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Florida school districts lost $ 262 million in nutrition funding to COVID-19 in the 2020 school year, according to a statement released by Fried’s office.

Fried’s office said the commissioner asked DeSantis to use some of the state’s federal CARES law funding to support school districts and nutrition providers, and to prevent staff cuts and changes. of meal service due to financial difficulties, but said the governor never responded.

Jason Muhon, deputy director of communications in the DeSantis office, responded by email stating “We absolutely support funding schools to ensure that they can continue to provide nutrition programs, that is not what is being debated. The point is that without provocation, the Agriculture Commissioner alleged that Governor DeSantis had not supported this funding, nor provided meals for the students. This is unequivocally false. Again, the governor’s office authorized the budget amendment to make funding possible.

Muhon said that “DeSantis and (Department of Education) Commissioner (Richard) Corcoran have taken repeated, deliberate and intentional steps to ensure that schools can open for in-person learning in the 2020 school year, and to ensure that school districts have the funding and flexibility to provide services to their students, including school meals. Again, Governor and Commissioner Corcoran began providing financial support and flexibilities to school districts in March 2020. Commissioner Fried’s letter arrived around September 2020. ”

Fried’s department oversees Florida’s $ 1.3 billion school lunch and breakfast programs, responsible for feeding about 3 million children over 300 million meals a year, his office said.

Muhon said that Corcoran’s emergency order in March 2020 provided for full funding of schools until the end of the school year and allowed some flexibility in how school districts could use those funds.

“As a result of the state ensuring full funding was provided to school districts during school closures, the state was able to claim approximately $ 929.3 million in reimbursement from Coronavirus Relief Funding (CRF).” Muhon said.

The funds Fried announced will be split among 414 school food authorities, 66 school districts, as well as the laboratory schools at Florida A&M University and Florida Atlantic University. This includes 128 private, not-for-profit and charter schools, as well as residential child care facilities. The recipients are the operators of the National School Meals Program (NLSP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP).

“Healthy food is essential for our children because without food in our schools they cannot do well in school, which means they cannot do well in life” Fried said in an email. “COVID-19 has hurt our schools to the tune of $ 262 million in lost funding for school nutrition, which means schools would have to make some very difficult choices. Governors in other states had used CARES Act funding to support school nutrition, but unfortunately here in Florida that didn’t happen – so we went straight to USDA to help to guarantee that the children of Florida would not go hungry ”, Fried said.

Fried, who plans to run against DeSantis for governor in 2022, said with 1 million children in Florida being “With food insecurity and 71% of school meals being free or at reduced prices, we cannot afford any interruption in school feeding. “

Muhon said that under the Corcoran’s emergency orders, school districts were given “$ 681 million in state funding that would otherwise have been cut due to a drop in student attendance.” “

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