Inevitably, menu needs have shifted towards more distributable, durable, and contact-free food items since the pandemic. Such changes have compelled districts to quickly source new items not only for consumption but for safe serving as well. Faced with the challenges of product availability and promoting “safe” food items, the USDA released nationwide waivers to allow meal pattern flexibilities and to extend expiring contracts with Food Service Management Companies (FSMC) to ensure districts can continue serving. However, when it comes to contracts and procurement, there aren’t any particular FNS waivers released so you’ll want to be sure to stay up to date on these 4 key areas for the latest and greatest info available:
1. Your State and Local Regulations
The procurement methods you use during this time ultimately depend on your local and state policies, so you’ll want to check there first to get a full understanding of your options and/or limitations, in case anything has changed due to the pandemic.
2. The Five Procurement Methods
Pandemic or not, school districts are required to follow one or more of the procurement methods shown here:
- Micro purchases (for purchases under $10,000)
- Informal procurement (for purchases between $10,000 and the Small Purchase Threshold. Federal law sets the threshold at $250,000 right now, however, state and local agencies may set more restrictive micro-purchase and/or small purchase thresholds)
- Invitations for Bid (IFB)
- Competitive Proposals aka Requests for Proposal (RFP)
- Sole Source purchases (must be pre- approved by the state agency)
Understanding these types of procurement methods and when to use them can make a huge difference in your time and budget, as well as ensure you’re in compliance with federal purchasing guidelines.
3. The latest COVID-19 Procurement Q&A
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) hosted a webinar in June 2020 where it received several COVID-19 related procurement questions from registered school districts. Questions range from policies surrounding micro-purchasing to adding and substituting items on existing contracts. Responses from the USDA are shared in the Q&A document here and are a great resource for school districts trying to understand their procurement options during this time.
4. The Critical Elements of Procurement
Remember that all district procurement should contain the same critical elements and follow the basic fundamentals outlined by the USDA, which includes the procurement methods listed above. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) provides an easy-to-read document “to help anyone involved in purchasing goods and services for a school foodservice program to gain a better overall understanding of the purchasing rules required of districts.” Check to make sure you are including and applying the elements required of procurement.