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Emily Pickren

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2016 – The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), the nation’s leading anti-hunger organization, today expressed strong opposition to the deeply flawed House Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill (pdf). The bill was introduced on Wednesday by House Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education on behalf of the majority on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

The ill-considered provisions in this bill would roll back years of progress. Countless children would no longer be able to access the nutritious meals they need for their health and learning, and the meals children could still obtain would be less healthy.

Provisions included in the bill would:

  • Significantly weaken the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Community eligibility is a federal option in its second year of nationwide implementation that reduces administrative work and increases school lunch and breakfast access in high-poverty schools. The bill proposes to reduce substantially the number of high-poverty schools that are eligible to implement community eligibility, which would impact approximately 7,000 of the 18,000 schools currently participating in the program. 11,000 additional schools not currently participating would lose the option to implement community eligibility in future years.
  • Increase verification requirements. The bill dramatically increases school meal application verification requirements in ways that inevitably would cause eligible students to lose access to free or reduced-price school meals. Under the proposal, the number of household applications to be verified would increase significantly for many school districts, creating paperwork burdens for schools and families. A disproportionate number of vulnerable families, such as those who are homeless, migrant, immigrant or have limited English proficiency, would fall through the cracks in the process and lose access to school meals even though they are eligible.
  • Interfere with school districts’ ability to conduct effective outreach to enroll families eligible for free and reduced-price meals. The bill prohibits school districts from including the eligibility requirements for school meals on the school meal applications. It also limits the number of times that schools can ask families to fill out applications to twice per year. This would reduce the number of eligible children applying for school meals and particularly impact the many working poor families who become eligible during the school year due to fluctuations in income.
  • Fail to meet the needs for children in care for long hours. The House bill does not reflect the provision included in the Senate bill that allows child care centers and homes the option of serving an additional snack to children in care for long hours.
  • Fail to address shortfalls in the summer food program.The streamlining provision does not allow nonprofit organizations and local government agencies (that are not schools) to operate the Summer Food Service Program year-round. Instead, sponsors receive the lower CACFP reimbursement rate and fewer sites are eligible in order to qualify for streamlining. The Summer EBT provision also would have a limited impact: only eight states (Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, and Washington) and the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations are eligible to participate; the benefits must be redeemed at WIC approved retailers; and the funding is capped at $10 million per year.
  • Fail to take the opportunity to expand access to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. It also would create barriers to the efficient operation of the program.
  • Significantly curtail USDA’s autonomy in establishing the regulations and requirements necessary for the effective administration of the health promoting child nutrition programs.
  • Significantly weaken evidence-based school nutrition standards for meals by continuing to delay the full implementation of the sodium standard and limiting the whole grain requirements. It would also require USDA to review and revise the school meal rules every three years.
  • Weaken new rules around snacks and beverages (Smart Snacks) sold in schools by allowing an exemption for foods sold as part of school fundraisers and expanding the options allowed to be purchased outside of the meals (a la carte items).

The child nutrition programs have a long-standing tradition of bipartisanship that has surrounded them for decades. The House bill moves away from that history and the universal recognition that these programs work – and work exceedingly well – to ensure healthy outcomes and greater educational attainment for our nation’s children.

We will continue to urge the House Education and Workforce Committee and Congress to put our nation’s children first and legislate improvements to the child nutrition programs, not changes that will hurt children by reducing their access to nutritious meals, leaving them hungrier and less ready to learn.

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Statement attributed to Jim Weill, president, Food Research & Action Center.