Update from Capitol Hill
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which funds and authorizes all child nutrition programs such as school and summer meals, expired on Sept. 30, 2015. The continuing resolution that prevented the federal government shutdown in October 2015 included the child nutrition programs in their current form.
In January 2016, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee unveiled a draft, bipartisan bill to reauthorize all child nutrition programs with many positive aspects, such as expanding access to summer meals. In May 2016, the House Education and the Workforce Committee proposed legislation that, among its concerning elements, included a pilot to block grant the school meals program in three states.
Both proposals for reauthorization of the federal child nutrition programs failed to pass before Congress adjourned for the holidays. Given how the negotiations broke down, reauthorizing legislation is unlikely to be raised again for a number of years. Barring any major changes to their budgets, the programs will continue under existing rules.
Thank you for each and every phone call and tweet, every site visit and email you’ve sent to Colorado’s Members of Congress. You made sure they knew how important summer meals and school breakfast are across our communities. You helped ensure these programs had champions in both the House and the Senate, people who wouldn’t walk away when the programs were threatened and carried forward the legacy of bipartisan commitment to making sure every child in America has access to the nutritious food they need to achieve their potential.
How Block Grants Could Harm Colorado Kids
Though the proposed legislation (H.R. 5003) from the House Education and the Workforce Committee failed to pass before Congress adjourned, it introduced a particularly strong threat: a pilot to block grant the school meals program.
What makes block grants dangerous?
- Block grants are a set amount of funding for states, instead of a set amount per meal served. The funding would be static and unresponsive to inflation, recession, or population growth. It wouldn’t rise or fall with how many kids need free or reduced-price school meals to get the fuel they need to learn.
- “Flexibility” means states can suddenly use school lunch funding to fill other budget holes, rather than dedicating them to ensure kids have access to healthy meals and preventing child hunger.
- They mean states wouldn’t have to comply with national standards. Each state would define what “healthy food” is, how to determine a child is eligible and whether to offer the breakfasts and snacks that help ensure kids are focused and ready to learn.
Read more about the specific impacts of the block granting provision, written by California Food Policy Advocates.
The Colorado Child Nutrition Reauthorization Coalition prepared and sent #StopTheBlock letters to each U.S. Representative from Colorado outlining grave concerns with H.R. 5003. The Colorado Child Nutrition Reauthorization Coalition includes the following: Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Colorado Fiscal Institute, Colorado School Nutrition Association, Healthier Colorado, Hunger Free Colorado, LiveWell Colorado and Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Colorado.
The joint letters were sent to Rep. Buck, Rep. Coffman, Rep. DeGette,Rep. Lamborn, Rep. Perlmutter, Rep. Polis and Rep. Tipton detailing why, and each included a case-in-point from their district. (Click the links to view each letter.)
We thank Rep. Jared Polis, who sits on the House Education and Workforce Committee, for supporting Colorado kids. He opposed H.R. 5003 and voted for amendments that would have strengthened the bill. Rep. Polis also successfully proposed an amendment to include pediatricians, dietitians, medical researchers and parents in the review process of school nutrition standards.
Senate Agriculture Committee’s Proposed Bill
On January 20, 2016, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee unveiled a bipartisan bill to reauthorize all child nutrition programs called The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016. The agreement provided for a five-year reauthorization of key federal school meal and child nutrition programs through fiscal year 2020.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who serves on the Committee, co-sponsored a proposal focused on expanding access to summer meals that was included in the draft legislation, and supports the reauthorization. During the meeting, he spoke to the barriers that children face, particularly in rural areas, and the importance of all kids having access to healthy food year-round. (You can watch his remarks from the meeting, beginning around 51:37, online here.)
“As former school superintendent, I’ve seen firsthand the effect an empty stomach can have on a kid’s ability to grow and succeed in school,” shared Sen. Bennet, who later also said, “As Hunger Free Colorado says, ‘No child should go hungry, simply because of where they live.’ I could not agree more.”
We applaud the Senate Agriculture Committee for working together to create bipartisan legislation and advancing it to markup, so more kids have the fuel needed to excel in and out of school. Specifically, we want to thank Sen. Bennet for prioritizing the eradication of summer hunger and for his leadership in bipartisan collaboration.
Background on Child Nutrition Reauthorization
Imagine what Colorado could be if every child had enough nutritious food to eat. More children would grow up healthy and strong, succeeding in and out of school. Yet, far too many kids struggle with having enough food to meet their basic needs, with nearly one in six children living in poverty. The consequences can be great, affecting children’s health, education and overall development, as well as our state’s economy.
The programs funded through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization provide an opportunity to invest in the health of Colorado kids and a better future for all Coloradans. Join us in ensuring every child in Colorado can access an adequate amount of healthy food to thrive and achieve their potential. Learn more about the programs below.
The Child Nutrition Reauthorization authorizes all federal school meal and child nutrition programs, which provide funding to increase access to healthy food for children across the U.S. In Colorado, these programs impact hundreds of thousands of children each day, ensuring that they receive the proper nutrition for healthy development as well as the energy and focus needed to learn and succeed in school.
Every five years, Congress reviews the laws governing these programs through the reauthorization process. The current law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, expired on September 30, 2015.
WHAT’S AT STAKE IN COLORADO
National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
The School Lunch Program, administered by the Colorado Department of Education, guarantees that hundreds of thousands of children in Colorado receive a healthy lunch during their school day. All children can participate in the program, but some children qualify for free or reduced price meals. Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level—$31,005 for a family of four during the 2014-15 school year—are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes below 185% of the poverty level—$44,123 for a family of four—are eligible for reduced price meals (no more than 40 cents charged to each student). In October 2014, 369,781 students in Colorado (42 percent of Colorado students) qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, but only 63% of those qualifying students participated.
School Breakfast Program
Eating breakfast is linked to fewer behavioral issues in school, fewer visits to the nurse and improved academic achievement. The school breakfast program, administered by the Colorado Department of Education, has the same qualifications for a free or reduced-price school lunch program, yet far fewer children participate in school breakfast. Just 35% of Colorado students who qualified in the 2012-2013 school year participated.
In 2013, Colorado passed legislation to address those barriers. Beginning school year 2014-15, schools in which more than 80% of students qualifying for free or reduced price-lunch must offer free breakfast to every student enrolled after the school day begins. During the 2015-16 school year, it expands to schools with 70% or more students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
WIC aims to prevent nutrition-related health problems in pregnancy, infancy and early childhood by providing nutritious food, healthy eating education, breastfeeding support and access to health care to low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children up to age 5 (below 185% of the poverty level and determined to be at nutritional risk). The monthly WIC food package, administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is a combination of foods that improve nutrition for pregnant women, new mothers and children. Based on the last federal fiscal year, WIC served 157,405 women, infants and children in Colorado; however, the number of women and children who may qualify for the program is estimated to be much higher.
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
CACFP, administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, pays for nutritious meals and snacks for eligible children who are enrolled at participating child care centers, Head Start programs, family child care homes, homeless shelters and after-school programs, as well as certain disabled adults. The At-Risk Afterschool program within CACFP provides resources for snacks and suppers at after-school, weekend and holiday enrichment programming that serve eligible children. As of May 2015, there were 365 sites in Colorado participating in the program.
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
When school lets out, millions of children lose access to the school breakfasts, lunches and after-school snacks that they rely upon during the school year. The summer food program, administered by the Colorado Department of Education, helps to fill the gap by providing nutritious meals and snacks to sites and programs that serve an area where at least 50% of the children are eligible for free or reduced price meals or enroll children, at least 50% of whom meet the Summer Food Service Program’s income eligibility standards. In the summer of 2014, nearly 1.5 million meals were served at 532 sites across Colorado.
Reducing barriers to summer meals is one of Hunger Free Colorado’s top priorities for Child Nutrition Reauthorization. The focus includes expanding the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Card pilot, which has shown to reduce food insecurity and increase consumption of healthy foods for kids during the summertime. It is important for all kids — regardless of where they live — to utilize nutrition programs that help fuel better, healthier lives. View our white paper to learn more.
After-school Care Snack Program (ACSP)
Healthy snacks allow children to be fully engaged in educational and enrichment activities at after-school programs. The ACSP, administered by the Colorado Department of Education, funds snacks for after-school care programs as well as schools operating longer than the traditional school day and providing regularly scheduled educational/enrichment activities to all children. If the school or school in the attendance area has 50% or more enrolled students eligible for free or reduced price meals, snacks are served at no charge to all children.