Child nutrition reauthorization plan calls for expanding access to free meals
The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act — a long-awaited proposed reauthorization of federal infant nutrition programs — was introduced Wednesday by House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, and Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon. The most recent reauthorization, the Healthy Hunger Free Children Act 2010, expired on September 30, 2015.
The legislation would expand student access to school lunches through existing federal programs, add school lunch debt protections for families, and provide grants to support the operational capabilities of school cafeterias. Markup on the bill is scheduled for July 27 in the House Education and Labor Committee.
The Education and Labor Committee cited US Department of Agriculture data showing that 2.7 million households with children did not have reliable access to food even before the pandemic. Then, during the pandemic, black and Hispanic households with children experienced about twice the food insecurity of their white peers, according to the Urban Institute.
Overview of the dive:
Thanks to investments in child nutrition programs made in response to COVID-19, food shortage rates fell by more than 40% among households with children between January 2021 and April 2021, Scott noted.
“The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act takes long overdue steps to achieve this goal by modernizing proven child nutrition programs and providing more children and families with access to nutritional support,” said Scott. in a report. “This is a critical opportunity to help fulfill our core responsibility to keep children from going hungry.”
The legislation comes a month after President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Keep Kids Fed Act into law, extending certain pandemic meal waivers through the end of the 2022-23 school year. Those waivers included relaxed nutrition standards to help deal with cafeteria supply chain disruptions and increased federal reimbursement rates for school lunches.
While some lawmakers had backed an extension of expanded universal school meals, that ultimately wasn’t included in the Keep Kids Fed Act, and the pandemic-era policy of free school meals for all will expire this summer. Proponents of codifying the program have cited the benefits of reduced child hunger and reduced stigma for low-income children receiving free meals while their more affluent peers pay for theirs.
Although an expansion of universal meals is not part of the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, the law Project expand eligibility for free meals.
For example, it would expand community eligibility so that more needy school districts can provide free lunches to all students and also ensure that children on Medicaid automatically receive free school lunches. It would also solve the thorny problem of school lunch debt by providing protections for children and families with unpaid school fees and forcing districts to determine whether those who accrue debt are entitled to free or reduced-price meals. .
In addition, households in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would automatically be eligible for reimbursement of one additional meal or snack per child under the Child and Adult Feeding Program. And children from SNAP households would also automatically be eligible for CACFP. The reimbursement age for people experiencing homelessness or in emergency accommodation would be increased from 18 to 25 years old.
The legislation would address summer food insecurity by providing $75 per month per household through the summer EBT program. In addition, it would reduce summer food service program area eligibility limits to provide more transportation assistance, mobile meal delivery and meal service sites in low-income neighborhoods to medium.
Additionally, the proposal includes grants for the purchase of kitchen equipment, support for farm-to-school programs, and encouragement of the scratch kitchen to expand the capacity of the school meals program.
The reauthorization plan has been welcomed by school lunch advocates, including the School Nutrition Association and the Food Research & Action Center.
The SNA noted that it had called for key provisions in the legislation, such as expanding the community eligibility and direct certification to allow more students to get free meals.
“As rising grocery prices leave families across the country struggling to put food on the table, the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act takes critical steps to expand access to free school lunches and healthy,” said SNA President Lori Adkins. in a report.
“Costs are also rising for school lunch programs, and this legislation recognizes the need to increase funding for these programs, which support student success in and out of the classroom,” added Adkins, former director of food services. school. who is currently an infant nutrition consultant for Oakland Schools in Waterford, Michigan.
Praise also came from the FRAC, which called it a comprehensive plan to “increase access to school meals, summer meals and childcare meals like never before”.
“The bill builds on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has continued to underscore the importance of federal child nutrition programs as families recover from the ongoing health and economic fallout of the pandemic. “, according to a press release from the FRAC President Luis Guardia.