CHN: Child Nutrition Legislation Advances in the House

Article from the July 26, 2010 edition of the CHN Human Needs Report:
Child Nutrition Legislation Advances in the House

Significant improvements in child nutrition programs passed the House Education and Labor Committee on July 15. The Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act (H.R. 5504) received strong bipartisan support with a vote of 32-13.  The 10-year reauthorization bill comes at a critical time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 17 million, almost 1 in 4 American children, are hungry. Many children from low-income families do not have access to nutritious meals year-round. In FY 2009, 19.5 million children received reduced price or free lunches but only 2.2 million children participated in summer food programs.

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of child nutrition reauthorization, the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (S. 3307), on March 24. Both the House and Senate bills would reauthorize child nutrition programs for 10 years, improving the quality of nutrition provided to children, increasing the number of children who would be able to access nutrition programs, and simplifying involvement in the programs for both schools and caregivers. Both bills would include the nationwide expansion of the Afterschool Meal Program, which is now available in only 13 states. Paperless options, direct certification, and reductions in the amount of paperwork necessary in order for school nutrition programs to function would make administrative efforts more efficient. Improvements to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program include the choice to certify children for the program for as long as a year instead of merely 6 months.  Both House and Senate bills would also permit WIC educational information to be utilized by the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) at the state and local level. Both bills include a performance-based increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches (six cents per meal), allow only lower-fat milk to be served in schools, and give authority to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to set the nutritional qualifications for foods sold in schools across the nation. Click here to see the Food Research and Action Center’s full coverage of the House and Senate bills.

The House version of the bill (H.R. 5504) made a number of improvements not included in the Senate bill. H.R. 5504 would authorize five states to provide children with another meal or an extra snack through the CACFP programs if they have been in child care more than 8 hours. The House bill also improves access for children in rural areas to Summer Food programs by lowering the eligibility rate at which all children can be served from 50 to 40 percent of students eligible for free and reduced price school meals. H.R. 5504 provides the opportunity for 5 states to offer children Afterschool Supper Programs through the National School Lunch Program and for 10 states to utilize the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) by offering year-round programs.

Key to the passage of a child nutrition bill will be funding the improvements to the programs. To comply with the pay-as-you-go budget rules, the improvements must be paid for (offset) with program cuts or through additional revenues. The Senate bill identifies offsets for its $4.5 billion 10-year increase whereas the House bill does not indicate how its $8 billion increase would be funded. Advocates are hoping the full House and Senate will pass child nutrition reauthorization legislation before Congress adjourns in early October.

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