Letter to Congress: Reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act
Jul. 11, 2015
Every five years Congress reviews the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR), which authorizes all of the federal child nutrition programs. The current version, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, is set to expire on September 30, 2015. Child nutrition programs are crucial for the health, development and education of millions of children throughout the country. The impact is wide reaching, affecting millions of children and their families, as well as the thousands of workers involved in producing, distributing and preparing the food provided by these programs. This critical issue is, naturally, under-reported, negotiated under cover of an opaque Congress. That's why we all need to stay on top on developments in the legislative process, learn about the impact of the federal child nutrition program and advocate for a CNR that is more nutritious, extensive and sustainable.
Read more about the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization.
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Dear Senators McConnell, Reid, Roberts, Stabenow, Hoeven, and Casey and Representatives Boehner, McCarthy, Pelosi, Kline, Scott, Rokita, and Fudge;
I write regarding the reauthorization of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. With the September expiration of the present reauthorization, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and with discussion regarding the next reauthorization beginning, we urge Congress to strengthen, not weaken, the nutrition programs serving our children.
Slow Food USA is a national, non-profit organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationally. We are dedicated to food and farming that are good, clean, and fair. We believe that everyone, and most importantly our children, must have access to sustainably and humanely produced food that is good for their health and well-being, good for the planet, and good for those who put food on our tables.
Based on our principles, we believe that a strong 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) will: make significant progress towards ending child hunger; ensure that all our children have year-round access to high quality, nutritious food; maintain nutrition program standards and support effective nutrition education; and support and strengthen regional farm and food economies.
We support “marker bills” that are pointing the way to a stronger CNR.
- S.1539/H.R.2715, the Stop Child Summer Hunger Act of 2015
- S.540, the School Food Modernization Act of 2015
- S.569/H.R.1061, the Farm to School Act of 2015
- S.613/H.R.1728, the Summer Meals Act of 2015
- H.R.1676, the Weekends Without Hunger Act of 2015
- H.R.2152, the Safe Chicken and Meat for Children Act of 2015
- H.R.2627, the Salad Bars in Schools Expansion Act of 2015
- H.R.2660, the Wise Investment in Our Children (WIC) Act of 2015
More specifically, we urge Congress to pass a 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) that will achieve these four goals.
1) Make significant progress towards ending child hunger and food insecurity in America.
School meals, summer meals, and meals served in childcare and after school settings are a significant part of many children’s diets. The 2015 CNR provides us with an opportunity to increase all children’s access to federally funded and regulated meals. As the persistent effect of the recent recession, more children have fallen into lower income categories, leading to increased need for child nutrition programs…15.8 million children in the United States live in “food-insecure” households – households that are unable to afford enough food.
The 2015 CNR must:
- Provide free meals to all children, as part of their instructional day, in public schools, reimburse all meals served at the free eligibility rate, and maintain Community Eligibility and Direct Certification provisions to increase meal access and reduce error and administrative burden;
- Consolidate the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) into one year-round program (ensuring that providers who only operate CACFPs year-round are not affected adversely);
- Increase reimbursement rates for CACFP to meet the increased costs of healthy food and transportation and provide technical assistance in the automation of food ordering and purchasing and food production record systems;
- Fund an additional meal through CACFP for center and home-based providers that have children in their care for more than eight hours;
- Fund nutrition services in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program at a level commensurate with the recent increased demand and provide funding for technical assistance and grants to WIC vendors to facilitate transition to offering fresh fruits and vegetables; and
- Establish a "default" breakfast, lunch, and snack reimbursement rate policy whereby children who are not eligible for free or reduced price meals and who do not have money for a school meal or a "brown bag" meal from home may be provided with a meal by the local School Food Authority that is eligible for USDA reimbursement at applicable 'Paid" meal rates.
2) Ensure that all our children have year-round access to high quality, nutritious foods, local and regional whenever possible, in their schools and through other child nutrition programs.
Many children live in households with limited access to fresh, healthy, and high quality, nutrient-rich food options. Child nutrition programs can provide children, especially those vulnerable to hunger and diet-related disease, with access to healthful foods.
The 2015 CNR must:
- Maintain federally funded meal standards that align with current Dietary Guidelines for Americans to ensure dietary balance and to promote health, specifically, protecting gains made in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 regarding increased amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat/fat-free dairy products, and ensure that national nutrition standards set a minimum for healthfulness while not restricting the ability of local School Food Authorities to implement healthier standards;
- Expand non-congregate feeding opportunities to increase participation in child nutrition programs, specifically the Summer Food Service Program, while maintaining congregate feeding requirements;
- Encourage local School Food Authorities to comply with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 provision ragarding Water Availability During National School Lunch Program Meal Service;
- Establish a USDA loan guarantee program that will help fund school food infrastructure improvements, including the installation of full kitchen cooking machinery, to help ensure that programs have the ability to prepare more wholesome, scratch food, and accessible water dispensing systems, to ensure the availability of free drinking water during and between breakfast, lunch, and snack service, and increase funds for the culinary training of school and CACFP food service staff, to ensure that a skilled workforce can prepare meals using healthful cooking techniques and can promote positive diet behaviors among students;
- Increase the USDA Foods commodity funding allocation from $0.2475 to $0.75 (based on lunches served during the previous year) to encompass all school meals, while maintaining current reimbursement rate structure for school meals, thereby enabling School Food Authorities to purchase additional and improved varieties of food for our children;
- Encourage and provide technical assistance to local School Food Authorities to develop strategies, including multi-district collective procurement, to procure and serve only animal-based foods produced from animals raised humanely and sustainably, without the use of non-therapeutic anti-biotics and hormones;
- Support limiting snack junk food through full implementation of healthy Smart Snack standards (practical, science-based nutrition standards for snack foods and beverages sold to children at school during the school day) in all schools, in accordance with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010; and
- Initiate a USDA study to determine the effects of short lunch periods (Typically, children must get to the cafeteria, collect their food, eat, and bus their trays in about 20 minutes.) and more time to eat (via increased cafeteria serving efficiency and longer, slower, lunch periods) on lunch participation, food consumption, plate waste, and student well-being.
3) Maintain nutrition standards and support high-quality nutrition education to help reduce obesity and diet-related disease and ensure productive, healthy generations to come.
Obesity and diet-related diseases are epidemic among children in America. Nutrition education and promotion offered through child nutrition programs can serve as a model for children to learn good dietary habits for life, especially when combined with the access to healthy food afforded by the present CNR. The 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization provides us with an opportunity to help reduce childhood obesity and improve children’s near and long-term health.
The 2015 CNR must:
- Identify and assess best state nutrition education coordination practices across nutrition programs (WIC, Team Nutrition, SNAP Education, and EFNEP), assess materials, trainings, and other products developed through Team Nutrition funding, and disseminate and promote best resource utilization practices;
- Provide reimbursement for CAFCP staff and volunteers to participate in family style meals, including a fourth meal, and extend the family style meal requirement to all early child care settings, to better model positive dietary habits; and
- Continue to support WIC nutrition education and support, including breastfeeding support, as vital components of early health and development of children and continuing care of mothers.
4) Support and strengthen regional farm and food economies through child nutrition procurement policy, thereby helping preserve farmland, supporting small and mid-scale family farm viability, and reducing unsustainable environmental impact.
Federally funded nutrition programs - School Lunch, School Breakfast, Summer Food, WIC, and CACFP - can serve as an important economic engine for regional farm and food economies, which include mid-scale, family farms and ranches that lack access to near-by, institutional markets. Increased investment in these programs can have significant positive impact on the health and well-being of our children, our environment, and our family farmers and ranchers.
The 2015 CNR must:
- Provide technical assistance to help local School Food Authorities and other child nutrition programs to extend their budgets and support small and mid-scale, family farmers, by developing bid specifications in which lesser graded - yet delicious, high quality – fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables are specified;
- Clarify and expand existing local procurement (2002 Farm Bill) and geographic preference (2008 Farm Bill) language to specifically allow for a “local product” specification, where “local” is defined by the local School Food Authority, and expand the definition of “food” under the DOD Fresh program (2002 and 2008 Farm Bills), to allow for more out-of-season, local purchasing, by changing “fresh" to “unprocessed” food, thus allowing for minimal processing, such as flash freezing and drying;
- Provide technical support and guidance to enable School Food Authorities to develop "Local Food Procurement Specialists," who, in accordance with the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, will assess local food availability, develop local food menu integration strategies, and, in accordance with federal, state, and local laws, implement procurement practices, including bidding pools, to increase the procurement of locally produced, fresh and minimally processed foods;
- Increase mandatory funding of the USDA Farm-to-School Grant Program from $5 to $15 million, to better meet increased program demand, and provide flexibility to local school districts to include pre-schools, summer food service program sites, and after school programs, improve farm-to-school participation among beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, enhance tribal schools’ access to farm-fresh and traditional foods, especially from tribal producers, and identify and eliminate regulatory and administrative barriers to the development of farm-to-school efforts;
- Increase the federal small purchase simplified acquisition threshold (SAT) from $150,000 to $250,000, thereby allowing for more local small purchase procurements to be conducted using informal bid methods; and
- Initiate a USDA study to determine the full costs and benefits of School Lunch, School Breakfast, Summer Food, WIC, and CACFP procurement and commodity distribution of locally and regionally produced, fresh and minimally processed foods based on price, spoilage loss avoidance, human and environmental health, and regional farm and food economies impact.
Our children are our most important resource. A strong CNR will help ensure their future health and well-being, as well as help to ensure the future health of our environmet and the viability of our regional farm and food economies.
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