CHN: Child Nutrition Reauthorization Passes Senate Committee

Bipartisan legislation to reauthorize child nutrition programs passed the Senate Agriculture Committee on January 20. The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 sets the policy and funding structure for all of the federal school meal and child nutrition programs, including National School Lunch, Summer Food Service Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and others. Many of these programs are permanently authorized (subject to Congress funding their operations), but Congress reviews the laws governing them every five years (approximately; 2010 was the last reauthorization for child nutrition).
According to the Food Research and Action Center, the new legislation contains many positive changes. It allows for the option of an additional snack for children in care for nine or more hours a day; allows for after-school and summer meal providers to streamline their operations through one program, significantly reducing duplicative paperwork and confusing rules; and increases the age of eligibility for children to receive benefits through WIC to their sixth birthday rather than their fifth birthday, except for children in full-day kindergarten. It also protects the new school meal nutrition standards for healthier meals, with a slight change to the whole grain requirement and a slight delay of the next sodium reduction target.

Another potential positive step is the ability in some states for some families who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals to receive a debit card, or Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, that they can use to buy certain foods at select stores during the summer. The White House announced on January 27 that President Obama’s FY2017 budget will include $12 billion over 10 years for a permanent Summer EBT program for all families with children eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. For more information on the Obama Administration’s proposals, see CHN’s blog post.

There are some concerns with the bill, however. FRAC and other child nutrition advocates are concerned that stricter verification requirements for families’ school meal applications will cause some eligible students to lose access to free or reduced-price school meals, particularly students whose families are homeless, migrant, immigrant and/or have limited English proficiency. Another part of the Obama Administration’s announcement on January 27 was a new initiative will allow states to use Medicaid data to certify students for free and reduced price lunches, with the goal of reducing paperwork for the states, schools, and families and increasing access for low-income children. Five states are expected to begin the demonstration project during the upcoming 2016-2017 school year with additional states added in subsequent years.

Dates have not yet been set for when the bill will be taken up by the full Senate or by the House Education and Workforce Committee. For more specifics on the legislation, see this analysis from FRAC.

Food and Nutrition