After several months of anticipation the House has its own Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) bill (read about the Senate version here). Unlike the Senate version, the bill is not a bi-partisan bill supported by committee members on both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately the news is not good.
The biggest concerns have to do with changes in how kids would be able to access free or reduced priced school meals. First, the community eligibility provision (CEP) threshold for schools to participate would increase from 40% to 60%. This is the provision that was created in the last CNR for high poverty schools to simplify paperwork and increase access to meals by providing them free to all students at the school. Increasing this threshold would impact more than 7,000 schools who are currently doing so and eliminate the option for an additional 11,000 schools who are currently eligible.
The second school meal issue is the increased verification requirements, which go even further than those included in the Senate bill. It greatly increases the number of approved applications that schools would have to verify without any additional support for them to do so. This means that kids who are especially vulnerable – those who are homeless, immigrants, or have limited English proficiency – would be more likely to get kicked off the program even though they’re eligible.
Finally, at the last minute an addition was made for a three-state pilot project to block grant school meal programs. We anticipate that this will result in fewer low income kids getting free or reduced priced meals at school since the overall funding amount would likely stay steady over time, and could even fall. It also eliminate all of the current program requirements that ensure access to healthy meals such as the nutrition standards, service of both breakfast and lunch, and eligibility standards.
Two places where there seems to be good intent but that don’t quite meet muster are around summer meals. The bill includes an option for streamlining summer and after school so they can be operated as one program by community organizations, but it is through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), rather than through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) which has higher reimbursement rates and more options for qualifying meal sites. This means that community organizations, like Food Lifeline would be highly unlikely to use this option. The second summer expansion is for summer EBT, essentially continuing the current pilot projects in place. It does not provide any options for expanding this program though, so it would continue be limited to a small number of states, not including Washington.
In most other places, the bill doesn’t go far enough – there is no additional snack for children who are in child care for long days, or close the age gap for kids between WIC and starting kindergarten. A few modest improvements include:
- options for kids to take meals off-site in the summer in high poverty areas
- additional funds to transition WIC to electronic benefits by 2020, something Washington is struggling with
- a 2 cent per meal increase for breakfast reimbursements, increasing to 3 cents in 2020
- loan and grant programs to support school kitchen equipment and infrastructure purchases.
The top priority for Food Lifeline going into Child Nutrition Reauthorization was to improve and increase access to programs. Although there are some items included in the House bill that were part of our priorities, it does not meet the requirement to “do no harm” and thus we are not supporting the bill.
If you want more, you can take a look at analysis and statements from our friends at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, FRAC, and Feeding America. Want to do something? Send an email to your Congressional representatives to let them know that this bill cannot move forward.