Friday, March 19, 2010

School Foods Bill: Sen. Lincoln Introduces The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

Update: The Senate Committee unanimously approved the bill in the first mark up on March 24.
On Wednesday, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark), chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, unveiled the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFK), a bill that covers a five-year reauthorization of the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Supplemental Program for Women Infants, and Children, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Improving the food offerings in the federal school feeding programs is one of the pillars of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, because many of the 31 million kids who participate in the program get as much as half of their daily calories at school.

As the head of USDA, the department that oversees school feeding programs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Mrs. Obama in a year-long campaign for improving and modernizing all aspects of the federal feeding programs. Sen. Lincoln's new Bill meets all of the goals Mrs. Obama and Sec. Vilsack deem the dream package for school feeding programs.

But as soon as Sen. Lincoln introduced HHFK, it was immediately assaulted by school lunch advocates, because the budget, at $4.5 billion, is less than half the $10 billion-over-10-years increase for school programs that President Obama had called for in his fiscal year 2011 budget. Lincoln's funding will be divided, with $1.2 billion going to increasing the number of children who receive free and reduced price meals, and $3.2 billion going to getting better, healthier foods into school meal programs, as well as combating childhood obesity.

In a statement, Sen. Lincoln defended the budget in HHFK, and said it would provide “a path” to achieve President Obama’s goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015. She added that the biggest increase in the past has been $500 million over 10 years.

“This legislation will 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," Sen. Lincoln said. "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."

Obama administration officials are hoping to "find" funding for improving school meal programs...somewhere. As are school lunch advocates.

Perhaps the most critical component of the new bill, and a big change in the school food landscape, is that it allows the Secretary of Agriculture to set nutrition standards for all foods sold on school campuses throughout the day. That sounds like a no brainer, but it's not. School food offerings have been the subject of battles for years, and standards have not changed in three decades. On Thursday, Sen. Lincoln was joined by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif) to announce that a coalition of lawmakers, food companies, public health advocates and eduction groups are willing to back a single, unified nutrition standard. The new gold standard will, if approved, be USDA/HHS's Dietary Guidlines For Americans. This standard is reviewed every five years; the current operating system is based on the 2005 version. There's a HHS and USDA working group now reviewing standards for 2010, with its next meeting scheduled for April.

The groups joining the lawmakers in backing the plan include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Beverage Association, the American Cancer Society Action Network, American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, The Coca Cola Company, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mars Incorporated, National PTA, Nestle, and PepsiCo.

The full details of Sen. Lincoln's Bill--which also includes mandatory funding for school gardens and local sourcing of foods, is below. Until the Bill goes through the mark up process, we'll spare you details of where the funds are expected to come from.

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010
Proposed Bipartisan Framework

*All estimates are 10-year figures
Total new child nutrition funding: $4.5 billion

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 After school Meals for At-Risk Children Nationwide
For the vast majority of states, the CACFP at-risk afterschool program only provides reimbursement for a snack. This section would give communities in all 50 states the ability to be reimbursed for a meal.

•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. This provision would expand the direct certification process to include Medicaid in select districts in the U.S.

•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
Adds 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 distribute materials to families to inform them of the availability and location of summer meal sites.

•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
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.