In August, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Now it’s the House’s turn to pass either the Senate’s bill or their own bill.
In the House, the bill is called Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act (H. R. 5504). The bill’s official description is:
Amends the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 to revise the school lunch and breakfast programs, the summer food service program, the child and adult care food program (CACFP), and the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC program). Reauthorizes appropriations for such programs through FY2015. Includes among such revisions:
- encouraging the direct certification of children who receive other public assistance as eligible for free meals under the school lunch and breakfast programs;
- establishing new mechanisms by which schools or local educational agencies (LEAs) with very high proportions of low-income children can receive federal reimbursement for free or reduced price meals under such programs without collecting individual paper applications from households;
- establishing a program awarding competitive grants to states and, through them, competitive subgrants to LEAs to establish or expand the school breakfast program at low-income schools;
- expanding the access of low-income rural areas to the summer food service program;
- requiring updates to meal patterns and nutrition standards for the school lunch and breakfast programs based on recommendations made by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS);
- requiring the establishment of science-based nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools outside the school lunch and breakfast programs;
- requiring LEAs participating in the school lunch and breakfast programs to establish local school wellness policies for their schools that include goals for nutrition promotion and education, physical activity and education, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness;
- requiring reimbursable meals and snacks provided under the CACFP to meet the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans and certain authoritative scientific recommendations;
- encouraging WIC program participants to breastfeed; and
- requiring WIC electronic benefit transfer (EBT) systems to be implemented nationwide by October 1, 2020
You can see they hope to accomplish a lot with one bill. The main focus is to make sure schoolchildren eat and that they eat nutritious, filling meals.
Healthier Kids is Good. What’s the Problem?
The sticking point of the bill is how to pay for it. The Senate decided to pay for their bill using funds from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), also known as food stamps.
In other words, they’re taking money away from feeding poor people and using it to feed poor people’s children. It’s not obvious that this plan would help anyone. It would just ensure that many people would be unable to feed their children at home, although the food at the schools would be healthier.
With the most recent numbers on poverty indicating that 14.3% of Americans live below the poverty level, and with so many people still jobless, reducing the safety net seems like a bad idea.
The problem before us is whether the House will use SNAP funds to pay for their bill and have the Child Nutrition Act funded, or whether they’ll suggest another source of funding, thereby delaying the passage of fully-funded, healthy school lunches.
The SNAP program has been chosen for cutbacks this year. It’s possible that if the money from the SNAP program isn’t used to fund the school nutrition bills, it will just be used to fund something else. Nothing is written in stone, of course. If enough people insist that the SNAP program stays untouched, the funds will stay within the food stamp program.
It’s a lot to think about and I think the solution isn’t easy. This bill is very likely to go to a vote this week. Let your representative know what you think.
Image by Christian Plochacki, used with a Creative Commons license