CHN: Senate Approves Child Nutrition Bill

On Wednesday, May 19, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry approved a bill to reauthorize and moderately expand national child nutrition programs, including school breakfast, lunch, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs. The House passed a similar bill (HR 3873) on March 24 with strong bipartisan support.
Currently, children in families with incomes up 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible to receive free lunches, and those at 185 percent are eligible for reduced-price meals (for a family of three, 130 percent of the poverty line is $20,371). Several senators pushed to make children living between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty line eligible for free meals rather than reduced-price meals, but the panel did not include this in its final version of the bill. Instead, the Committee approved a five-state pilot program where families with incomes up to 185 percent of the poverty level will qualify for free meals (subject to Congressional funding).

Both the House and Senate bills make the application process easier, reducing the stigma of the program by maintaining more confidential records. Migrant children will become automatically eligible for the school meals. The bill approved by the Senate committee also permanently reauthorizes three important child nutrition provisions scheduled to expire June 30: the eligibility of for-profit child care centers for the Child and Adult Care Food Program if at least 25 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced price meals; the exclusion of military housing from income when determining eligibility for school meals; and the Lugar summer food pilot programs. In addition, both bills expand the Lugar summer food pilot program (the Senate expands it to a total of 20 states; the House to 17).

The child nutrition bill received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, and both versions have rejected plans by President Bush to increase verification standards that would make it more difficult for families to receive these benefits. In fact, both bills have aimed to make it easier for low-income families to gain access to these programs.

The current program was temporarily extended in both chambers last March, when it was set to expire. The next step is the Senate floor, and then to conference for a final decision before it expires at the end of June. Support for reauthorizing the child nutrition programs was shown recently in a letter signed by over 20 national organizations stating, “We believe that this legislation strikes the right balance between needed program improvements while maintaining the integrity of the programs. The draft legislation includes many of our joint priorities, especially increasing access to programs for low-income children; enhancing the nutritional quality of meals and improving nutrition education; and providing additional resources to vulnerable populations, such as homeless, runaway, and migrant children”. These organizations are urging their Senators to vote “yes” on the bill when it comes to the floor, which is expected to happen shortly after the upcoming Congressional recess.

For more information:
Food Research and Action Committee: Analysis of the House bill

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