House Democrats are proposing a $35 billion expansion of child feeding assistance as part of their massive tax and spending package, and a lawmaker announced Wednesday that the measure also would include $1 billion in biofuel aid.
In addition, portions of the legislation that have not been released are expected to include $28 billion in new funding for farm bill conservation programs and $7.75 billion for agricultural research, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
The child nutrition provisions, which the House Education and Labor Committee is scheduled to debate on Thursday, would allow another 9 million kids to receive free school meals while also making low-income children nationwide eligible for $75 a month in nutrition assistance when they are out of school during the summer.
The committee’s draft legislation also would earmark $634 million for nutrition education and school gardens and another $500 million to fund the purchase new school kitchen equipment.
The provisions are to be folded into the larger budget reconciliation bill that Democrats are putting together to carry out President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda to address climate policy and carry out a long list of domestic spending priorities. Democratic leaders have insisted that the spending will total $3.5 trillion, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is reportedly telling colleagues that he won't support a bill costing more than $1.5 trillion.
The House Agriculture Committee is expected to release the draft provisions for its portion of the reconciliation bill on Thursday.
A member of the Ag Committee, Iowa Democrat Cindy Axne, said the panel’s draft would include $1 billion for biofuel assistance. The funding would “provide grants over the next eight years to expand biofuel pump infrastructure, upgrade existing tanks and pumps, and increase usage of higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel,” according to Axne’s office.
“This is a great day for our rural communities, our agricultural economy, our planet, and for hundreds of thousands of Americans whose jobs will be supported by the investments I’ve helped secure in the Build Back Better Act,” said Axne.
The committee was authorized to spend up to $89 billion on conservation, research, forestry, debt relief and other Democratic priorities. The conservation program spending is designed to promote the adoption of climate-friendly farming practices.
One source said that the bill would provide $40 billion for forestry as well as the nearly $36 billion in conservation and research funding.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told reporters that she was working closely with her House counterparts on the reconciliation bill’s provisions. Her committee also has jurisdiction over child nutrition programs, which are under the purview of the Education and Labor Committee in the House.
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“We're going to be doing really, really positive things for children to have healthy food in the summer as well throughout the school year,” she said. “We're tackling wildfires and climate-smart agriculture.”
USDA’s annual food security report, released Wednesday, said that the rate of food insecurity among children rose to 7.6% in 2020, up from 6.5% in 2019. There were 2.9 million households with children in 2020.
To increase the number of kids getting free school lunches, the Education and Labor Committee's draft legislation would expand an existing “community eligibility provision” that allows all children in a school or district to receive free meals if there at least 40% of the kids are eligible for them. The bill would alter a funding formula that has discouraged some schools from participating and also would provide for entire states to qualify, if they are also providing non-federal funding. The change to the funding formula would sunset after 2030.
Children whose families are covered by Medicaid also would be automatically eligible for free meals under the legislation.
Additionally, the bill would create a nationwide Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program to help feed low-income children during summer months.
The bill falls short of the School Nutrition Association’s goal to provide free meals to all children nationwide, but the group “strongly supports any effort to expand access to healthy school meals for students, and the community eligibility provision has really supported schools,” said spokeswoman Diane Pratt Heavner.
Zoe Neuberger of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy group, said on her Twitter feed that the nutrition provisions "build on programs enacted with bipartisan support. Together they could lead to improvements in low-income children’s health and development that improve their prospects into adulthood."
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