Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization raises concerns among advocates

Last week, a subcommittee chairman on the House Education and Workforce Committee introduced the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization. The text of the bill prompted immediate opposition from children’s advocacy, public health, education, and civil rights groups.

The primary concern for many of these groups was the weakening of the Community Eligibility Program. This program allow schools in high-poverty areas to provide free meals to all of their students.

“CEP is helping schools, it’s helping teachers and, above all, it’s helping address child poverty and reduce the stigma associated with being a child who is food insecure,” said Bernard Dreyer, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Community eligibility is especially important for children of immigrant families. According to the National Council of La Raza, a national Latino advocacy organization, many Latino children who are eligible for free meals are not currently receiving them. In fact, a recent study estimated that more than one-third of children eligible for but not receiving school meals are Latinos.

The Community Eligibility Program is effective at closing this disparity. Studies show that adoption of community eligibility increases participation in the National School Lunch Program by 13% and participation in the School Breakfast Program by 25%.

Weakening this crucial program, as the House Education Committee proposes, would threaten access to free school meals for 7,022 schools and more than 3.4 million children. To make matters worse, the bill also seeks to increase verification requirements for school meals, which is likely to create further obstacles for families to access school meals.

“I am very disappointed by what is going on in Congress right now,” said Randi Schmidt, chair of the Children’s Leadership Coalition. “It seems that while some speak of wanting to help people in poverty and create opportunity in our nation, their actions leave something to be desired when it comes to children, including low-income and poor children, or children suffering abuse or neglect.”

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) outlined concerns about the proposal. In particular, FRAC opposes provisions that would:

  • Significantly weaken the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Community eligibility is a federal option in its second year of nationwide implementation that reduces administrative work and increases school lunch and breakfast access in high-poverty schools. The bill proposes to reduce substantially the number of high-poverty schools that are eligible to implement community eligibility, which would impact approximately 7,000 of the 18,000 schools currently participating in the program. 11,000 additional schools not currently participating would lose the option to implement community eligibility in future years.
  • Increase verification requirements. The bill dramatically increases school meal application verification requirements in ways that inevitably would cause eligible students to lose access to free or reduced-price school meals. Under the proposal, the number of household applications to be verified would increase significantly for many school districts, creating paperwork burdens for schools and families. A disproportionate number of vulnerable families, such as those who are homeless, migrant, immigrant or have limited English proficiency, would fall through the cracks in the process and lose access to school meals even though they are eligible.
  • Interfere with school districts’ ability to conduct effective outreach to enroll families eligible for free and reduced-price meals. The bill prohibits school districts from including the eligibility requirements for school meals on the school meal applications. It also limits the number of times that schools can ask families to fill out applications to twice per year. This would reduce the number of eligible children applying for school meals and particularly impact the many working poor families who become eligible during the school year due to fluctuations in income.

Read FRAC’s entire statement here.

Please take action to oppose this harmful legislation.

1) Follow this link to send an email to your Member of Congress asking him/her to oppose the bill.

2) Tweet at your Member of Congress – see sample tweets below. Use this document (pdf) to help find their twitter handles.

.@EdWorkforce #CNR2016 bill weakens child nutrition progs & keeps kids from getting the food they need. Read @fractweets stmnt:  

I join @fractweets in opposing the harmful @EdWorkforce #CNR2016 bill. Read more:

Ill-considered provisions in @EdWorkforce #CNR2016 bill would roll back years of progress