After months of delays, the Senate has come to a compromise on child nutrition reauthorization. The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously voted their final version, the “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016,”
out of committee on Jan. 20. The bipartisan bill retains and expands upon key aspects of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, including school meal nutrition, farm to school, summer meals and federal nutrition programs.
Here are some highlights of the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016:
- Farm to School: The Farm to School Act has been fully incorporated into the new bill. Grant funding, which will be mandatory and permanent, has been doubled for a total of $10 million a year. The bill also provides for more flexibility at preschools, summer food service program sites and after school programs, as well as increased outreach to disadvantaged and minority farmers.
- School Meals: Schools will be given more time and flexibility to implement sodium and whole grain standards originally included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The bill asks the CDC and USDA to provide more guidance to schools on ways to reduce food waste through salad bars and “sharing tables” where children can leave unwanted food for other students to eat. Unfortunately, the bill does not include an increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school meals.
- Summer Meals: In order to serve rural and hard-to-reach children, the congregate meal site requirement will be relaxed and some states will be allowed to use alternative methods to get summer meals to children. They will also be allowed to increase SNAP benefits for families during the summer.
- SNAP, WIC and CACFP: The SNAP budget was not cut to pay for any of the changes called for the in the bill. WIC will be expanded to include children who are not in all-day kindergarten up to age 6. Through CACFP, child care providers will now have the option of offering a third snack if they are open for more than 9 hours. For the first time, residential child care providers will also be allowed to participate in the program.
Since the bill has strong stakeholder support, it’s expected that it will pass in the full Senate without much difficulty. However, there are a few more steps that must be taken before the legislation will reach President Obama. In the House, the Education and Workforce Committee—which governs child nutrition programs—must draft and mark up their own version, although there is a possibility that the House will simply support the Senate’s bill. Congress must also pass a joint Child Nutrition Act reauthorization within the current legislative cycle, or new nutrition standards and increased funding for farm to school and summer meals will be put at risk. Take a look at this infographic from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Farm to School Network for more details.