On Wednesday, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) introduced the House Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) bill on behalf of House Education and Workforce Committee Republicans. CNR sets the participation guidelines, funding levels, and nutrition standards for the major federal child nutrition programs, including school meals, summer meals, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), amongst others.
This House version of the bill not only eliminates the beneficial provisions included in the latest bipartisan Senate Child Nutrition Reauthorization, but goes further to include deleterious provisions that take child nutrition programs back a decade or more, sabotaging the accomplishments of the bipartisan Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This bill would increase child hunger and undermine child health, while increasing paperwork and bureaucracy for school administrators and families.
The House bill fails to include the following provisions, supported by Hunger Free America, that were included in the from the Senate Agriculture Committee’s proposed Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill:
- Allowing an additional snack in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) for children in daycare for nine or more hours, which is important as more parents work longer and nontraditional hours.
- Streamlining the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Afterschool meals paperwork to allow organizations to provide healthy meals to children year-round as one program instead of two, greatly reducing the administrative burden on sponsors.
- Establishing a nationwide option for States to offer Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (SEBTC), a program that provides funds for healthy food to low-income families living in rural areas or areas where access to summer meals is limited.
- Reducing barriers to participation in WIC, including allowing five-year olds to participate in the), so they receive adequate nutrition in the years before they enter kindergarten and begin eating school meals.
Like the Senate bill, the House’s version of CNR also includes onerous verification requirements for school breakfast and lunch applications that will burden administrators and add additional barriers for students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, particularly children who are homeless, from immigrant families, or in foster care. Ironically, these so-called “integrity” provisions could actually increase child hunger.
The House CNR bill also aims to reverse much of the progress made since the last Child Nutrition Reauthorization:
- A weakening of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) will reduce the number of high-poverty schools that can offer universal free school meals, including the highly-effective breakfast in the classroom model. The Food Research and Action Center estimates that 7,000 of the 18,000 schools that currently participate in CEP would be impacted, and an additional 11,000 schools that are eligible but not currently participating would lose this opportunity.
- This bill also goes against evidence-based nutrition science, neglecting to enforce school nutrition standards reducing sodium content and increasing whole grain requirements. It also reopens loopholes that would flood schools and cafeterias with junk food and undermine the work being done to make schools healthier places for children.
More than half a decade after the Great Recession officially ended, 15 million children still live in homes that can’t always afford enough food. Food deprivation in the world's wealthiest nation is not only morally unacceptable, but it also severely hampers children's emotional, intellectual, and physical development. Child hunger costs the U.S. economy at least $28 billion per year because poorly nourished kids perform less well in school and require far more long-term health care spending. Solving this problem will cost far less than not solving it.
The bottom line is that these programs have been working to reduce child hunger, improve health, reduce childhood obesity, and ensure that children are prepared to learn. CNR ought to make child nutrition programs more accessible, especially to low-income and food insecure children, and continue to improve nutrition standards for all. Needless to say, when one in five American children still live in households that can’t always afford enough food, while Congress votes for hundreds of billions of dollars in extended tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, a CNR that increases child hunger and harms children’s health is utterly inhumane and unacceptable.