New bill aims to boost USDA’s child nutrition programs

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, March 17 – More money for federal child nutrition programs could be on the way if a new bill, unveiled Wednesday by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) becomes law. The Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry describes the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” as a bipartisan, fiscally responsible bill making the largest investment in federal child nutrition programs to date.

Lincoln’s bill provides $4.5 billion in new child nutrition program funding over ten years, a significant increase over previous efforts. The highest previous increase was $500 million over ten years. Of the total, $1.2 billion is for increasing participation and $3.2 billion is for improving nutritional quality to fight childhood obesity.

“We are poised for a truly historic moment in the Senate Agriculture Committee today with the unveiling of a bill that makes the largest investment in our child nutrition programs to date,” said Lincoln. “This proposal is a monumental step forward as we work to end childhood hunger and address the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. It invests roughly $4.5 billion in new funding in child nutrition programs over the next ten years – more new money than we have provided for child nutrition programs since their inception.”

“This legislation will also mark the first time since the inception of the National School Lunch Program that Congress has dedicated this level of resources to increasing the program’s reimbursement rate. It also invests heavily in new initiatives designed to automatically enroll more eligible low-income children with our National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs and includes a major expansion of afterschool feeding programs,” said Lincoln.

The legislation aims to ensure that all children eligible for nutrition programs are actually participating, improve the quality of meal benefits, and modernize and improve the integrity of the programs. The legislation is fully paid for.

U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, commended Lincoln for the child nutrition package

“The plan calls for additional resources to improve the quality of meals served through the National School Lunch Program, as well as addresses the nutrition environment throughout the entire school campus. This package also includes important measures to simplify rules and streamline operations so more children have access to meal programs outside the school setting. I am pleased the package strikes an appropriate balance by providing important tools to combat both childhood hunger and obesity.”

While he says that he worked closely with Lincoln on constructing the bipartisan legislation, Chambliss says he has concerns with some of the offsets used to fund the measure, primarily reductions in funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  That’s a concern echoed by Environmental Working Group Senior VP Craig Cox. He commented that Lincoln’s proposed bill “would cap the amount of money spent on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to pay for the nutrition increase. EQIP, a program chronically underfunded and repeatedly targeted for cuts, helps ensure cleaner water, soil and air for the children in rural communities.”

Instead of cutting EQIP, Cox says “The senator would be much smarter to look to the bloated farm subsidy program.” He adds that “A meager 5% cut in subsidies to just the top 10% of recipients – the largest operations that received an average of $48,000 in 2009 – would equal the proposed cuts to EQIP. The taxpayer-funded commodity subsidies benefit the largest and wealthiest growers of corn, cotton, rice, wheat and soybeans. In addition to ensuring profits for the biggest farm business, these subsidies also dump a glut of unhealthy calories on the market, enabling food manufacturers to cheaply produce the very products that feed the obesity epidemic.”

The federal child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Supplemental Program for Women Infants, and Children (WIC), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, play a critical role in preventing hunger and promoting healthy diets among children from birth until the end of secondary school.

A summary of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is below.

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 Proposed Bipartisan Framework
(all estimates are 10-year figures)


Guiding Principles:

  • Expand program access to reduce childhood hunger
  • Improve nutritional quality to promote health and address childhood obesity
  • Simplify program management and improve program integrity

A Path to End Childhood Hunger: $1.2 billion

  • Expanding Afterschool Meals for At-Risk Children Nationwide
    • For the vast majority of states, the CACFP at-risk afterschool program only provides reimbursement for a snack.
  • Expanding Universal Meal Service through Community Eligibility
    • This new option will allow schools in high-poverty areas to offer free meals to all students without collecting paper applications, which will expand access to more children and reduce administrative burdens on schools.
  • Connecting More Eligible Low-Income Children with School Meals
    • Children whose families receive SNAP benefits are directly certified for free school meals.
  • Performance Bonuses for Direct Certification
    • This section would establish performance benchmarks for states to improve their direct certification methods, as well as provide incentive bonuses to states to incentivize improved performance.
  • Categorical Eligibility of Foster Children
    • This section would add foster children to the list of those that are automatically eligible for free meals, eliminating the need for foster children to demonstrate their income when applying for school meal benefits.
  • Promoting the Availability and Locations of Summer Food Service Program Meal Sites
    • Requires school food authorities to coordinate with institutions operating the Summer Food Service Program to develop and
  • Piloting Innovative Methods to Feed Hungry, Low-Income Children
    • Provides mandatory funding to test pilot projects to improve the way we feed hungry children, including during out-of- school times.

Promoting Health and Reducing Childhood Obesity: $3.2 billion

  • Helping Schools Improve the Nutritional Quality of School Meals
    • A performance-based increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches — 6 cents per meal — will help schools meet new meal standards to provide children with healthier school meals.
  • National Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in Schools
    • This section would provide the Secretary of Agriculture with the authority to establish national nutrition standards for all foods sold on school campus throughout the school day.
  • Promoting Nutrition and Wellness in Child Care Settings
    • This section establishes nutrition requirements for child care providers participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, as well as providing guidance and technical assistance to help providers improve the health of young children.
  • Connecting More Children to Healthy Local Produce through Farm-to-School Programs
    • Provides mandatory funding for schools to establish school gardens and to source local foods into school cafeterias.

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