CHN: Action on Child Nutrition Reauthorization in the Senate

High quality school breakfast and lunch programs and afterschool and summer food programs are all critical components in the goal of ending childhood hunger and reducing obesity.  On March 17 the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) released a discussion draft of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to reauthorize these child nutrition programs and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
The stated principles of the legislation are to expand program access to reduce childhood hunger; improve nutritional quality to promote health and address childhood obesity; and simplify program management and improve program integrity.  The legislation takes a number of important steps to advance those principles.  Currently in most states the CACFP at-risk afterschool program only provides reimbursement for a snack.  The legislation would give communities in all 50 states the ability to be reimbursed for a meal, and CACFP, now available in 13 states, would be expanded to all states.  Schools in high-poverty areas would be allowed to offer free meals to all students without collecting paper applications, both expanding access to more children and reducing administrative burdens on schools.  Currently children whose families receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp) benefits are directly certified for free school meals.  Direct certification would be expanded to Medicaid recipients in select areas in the country, and all foster children would automatically be eligible for free meals.  The legislation gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to establish national nutrition standards for all food sold on the school campus through the school day.  WIC agencies would have the option to certify children for up to one year, up from the current six months requirement, and the legislation mandates gradual implementation of the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system to transfer benefits to program participants.

The President’s FY 2011 budget calls for increasing funding to child nutrition programs by $1 billion per year for 10 years.  The Agriculture Committee bill adds $4.5 billion in funding over 10 years, offset primarily by savings from the EQIP conservation program, raising concerns among environmental and conservation groups as well as fruit and vegetable growers who would prefer that the savings come from crop subsidy programs.  Committee leaders will also be looking for offsets from the Finance Committee in order to make even more improvements in the bill.

The full Senate hopes to consider the bill soon after Congress returns from spring break in mid-April.  The House has not yet marked up its child nutrition bill.

Food and Nutrition
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