Encourages Bill That Protects and Strengthens Critical Child Nutrition Programs
Feeding America today issued the following statement attributable to CEO Diana Aviv.
“Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, recently introduced the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. While we welcome the Committee’s movement toward reauthorizing these programs, we are deeply concerned that some aspects of the bill would result in eligible children losing access to meals and that even positive provisions, such as those to strengthen summer meals, miss an opportunity make meaningful progress toward closing the summer meal gap.
“The short and long term impacts of food insecurity on children’s health, cognitive, physical, and educational outcomes are well documented. With 1 in 5 children in America experiencing food insecurity, ensuring access to and participation in programs that provide nutritious food both during school and when school is out is critically important.
“An acceptable child nutrition reauthorization bill must first do no harm. While this is a fundamental tenet, it is not enough. Congress can and must go further to improve access and participation, ensure program accuracy, and reinforce the importance of efficiency in program operations. And it must prioritize closing the summer meal gap. Currently less than 18 percent of children who rely on free or reduced price school meals are able to access a meal during the summer months. For many of our most vulnerable children, summer is a time of hunger and worry.
“In particular, we strongly oppose provisions in the bill to limit the community eligibility provision. This option allows high-poverty schools to reduce the administrative paperwork burden and focus on feeding children. This provision is popular with schools, administrators, and families. It has made the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs more efficient and ensured access and participation among low-income children, which improves student achievement, health and behavior. Thousands of schools and millions of children stand to be impacted by a return of burdensome paperwork under this proposal, which will likely result in eligible children losing benefits. We are also concerned with some of the changes to the way free and reduced price school meal applications are verified. Any changes to the verification process must protect eligible children from falling through the cracks.
“While we are encouraged that the House bill includes several modest positive provisions, such as improving access to summer and after-school meals, the investments are inadequate to meet the scale of need. This is especially true in summer where there is a missed opportunity to make meaningful progress toward closing the summer meal gap. We appreciate that the bill would allow community providers in rural and other underserved areas to implement innovative new models to reach children who are unable to travel to and from program sites – a provision that has garnered strong bipartisan support. The bill would also allow community providers to seamlessly operate one program year-round, rather than two, to reach kids throughout the year. While a commonsense approach, this provision needs to be improved so participating providers have sufficient reimbursement to expand programs to reach more kids. The bill also provides a very modest and limited extension of the summer electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card demonstration projects which provide families resources to purchase nutritious food directly from retail stores. These extensively evaluated projects showed impressive results – reducing the worst form of food insecurity by a third for participating children. Summer EBT should be significantly expanded.
“As drafted, we oppose the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. As Congress moves forward with Child Nutrition Reauthorization, we urge members to work together to enact a strong, bipartisan bill that protects and strengthens critical nutrition programs this year. An investment in nutrition for low-income children is an investment in our nation’s future. Hungry children cannot afford to wait.
“As the Senate demonstrated when passing its child nutrition bill in January, Congress can find bipartisan common ground to make good child nutrition programs even better. We remain committed to working with Committee members to improve areas of concern in this bill, and with all in Congress to ensure the passage of a strong child nutrition bill that ensures every child has the nutrition they need to grow, learn, and thrive.”
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About Feeding America
Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 40 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.