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Child nutrition policy proposals focus on afterschool and summer learning programs

By Erik Peterson

With the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 unanimously passing the Senate Agriculture Committee last month, the process of reauthorizing the federal child nutrition programs is well under way. The bill, which is expected to head to the Senate floor sometime this spring, would impact the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP) At-Risk Afterschool Meals. At the same time President Obama recently announced a new Administration initiative calling for major investments in preventing child hunger.

The bipartisan child nutrition reauthorization bill, crafted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), includes a number of provisions of interest to afterschool and summer learning providers, including:

  • Streamlining summer and afterschool meal coordination, which will allow afterschool meal sites to choose to operate year-round through the Summer Food Service Program. This will allow sponsors to operate one program rather than two, and significantly reduce duplicative paperwork and confusing administrative rules protecting the new school meal nutrition standards that are improving our children’s health and the school nutrition environment. The Afterschool Alliance had strongly recommended such a provision. The streamlining provision is phased in over time.

  • Creating the opportunity for a six state pilot program that would allow summer food sponsors to provide a third meal, particularly important for summer learning programs that provide programming for children six to eight hours per day.

  • Including summer and afterschool meals in the Farm to School program – this is a welcome addition and will have a positive impact on the millions of children in afterschool programs. Additionally, under the bill funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is doubled from $5 million to $10 million per year.

  • Adding a role for afterschool programs in the nutrition education portion of the bill.  

The Senate bill and a summary are posted here. The House Education and the Workforce Committee – the committee of jurisdiction in the House of Representatives – has not announced its mark up date but is reportedly developing their own proposal this winter.

Separately, on January 27th the White House hosted a conversation about child hunger in America, with experts and direct service providers discussing how hunger continues to harm children across the country. Among the new federal actions announced that day was a commitment to ensuring all low-income children have year-round access to the food they need to learn and grow. The President’s FY2017 Budget will propose investing $12 billion over ten years to reduce child hunger during the summer through a permanent Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program to provide supplemental food benefits during the summer months for all families with children eligible for free and reduced price school meals.  During the academic year, school meals help ensure consistent and adequate access to nutritious food for the nearly 22 million low-income children who receive free and reduced price school meals. Currently the summer food service program provides meals at summer learning program sites nationwide, however the newly proposed Summer EBT program would supplement the existing effort by ensuring young people that cannot access a summer learning program are still provided with a nutritious meal. 

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