Child nutrition reauthorization bill introduced in the House

by Erik Peterson

On April 20th Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education introduced a House Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill on behalf of the majority on the House Education and Workforce Committee. The bill would reauthorize the federal child nutrition programs including the CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals program and the Summer Food Service Program, however many of the proposed changes have could result in children no longer being able to access the nutritious meals they need for their health and learning.

Among the general provisions in the bill of concern are the following:

  • Significantly weakens 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.

  • Increases 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.

From an out of school time perspective in particular, the legislation fails to address shortfalls in the summer food program. The streamlining provision in the bill 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. Rather than making it easier for providers to offer meals seamlessly throughout the calendar year, the proposed provision would result in fewer programs offering meals to children in need due to the limited eligibility and lower reimbursement rate. 

In contract, the Senate child nutrition reauthorization bill that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this year would instead streamline summer and afterschool meal coordination in a manner that would allow afterschool meal sites to choose to operate year-round through the Summer Food Service Program. This will allow sponsors to keep an adequate reimbursement rate, maintain eligibility, 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 has strongly recommended such a provision.

The House bill could be marked up by the House Education and the Workforce Committee in the coming weeks. Advocates can weigh in on the bill here

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