We’ve been discussing Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) for a while now. Our previous blog post lays out the basics of the programs and why they’re so important to our work to end hunger in our region.
On January 20th, the Senate Agriculture Committee brought forward their version of a CNR bill. While the actual bill has many, many pieces to it, here are some of the highlights:
The most substantial changes were made to summer meals. An option was added to allow non-profit organizations, like Food Lifeline and other community partners, to distribute meals through the summer program year-around, rather than having to switch back and forth between summer and after school which have different sets of paperwork and requirements. A permanent summer EBT program is included, with benefits of $90 per summer per child, operated through the WIC program. There are also some options for providing meals through non site-based models in rural areas and areas where there are 80% or more children who qualify for free or reduced lunch. The state is expected to put together a plan to identify which of these programs would be operated where in order to eliminate program overlap.
Some great changes were made to the WIC program! Children would be eligible up to age six or until they are enrolled in full-day kindergarten. This addresses a previous gap for five year olds who were kicked off the program, but didn’t yet have access to school meals. It also allows infants to be certified for two years, reducing paperwork and the number of eligible families who roll off the program. There were no changes to the current adjunctive eligibility, which allows states to use Medicaid participation as an income test to verify WIC participation.
Fewer changes were proposed for Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Mainly, adding residential care facilities as eligible to participate in the program and added additional meal/snack service for children who are in child care more than nine hours a day.
One of the big concerns with school meals was that the nutrition guidelines created in 2010 would be rolled back significantly. Luckily an agreement was reached for the bill which essentially holds the current levels of whole grains and sodium and delays implementation of the next level, but does not go backwards. The greatest point of concern in the whole bill changes the process for verifying free and reduced priced meal applications. It significantly increases the number of applications schools would need to verify information for, creating a large administrative burden and likely resulting in eligible kids getting kicked off the program. There are options for the number of reviewed applications to be reduced, though it may take several years for some schools to meet these requirements.
Overall, the bill is a really great start towards expanding the reach and impact of these important programs. Most of these changes are big steps in the right direction, but nearly all, especially those for summer meals, include scope, implementation, or funding limitations that fall short of giving those programs a broad enough reach to make a significant difference.
We are waiting for final fiscal analysis before the bill can move to the Senate floor for a vote. We are also currently waiting on the House which as indicated that they plan to create their own bill rather than just work from the Senate version. We continue to talk with our Congressional delegation to ensure that the final bill does not compromise current programs, and that it hopefully includes some of the very positive steps forward included in the Senate bill.
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