HSC Statement on the American Families Plan and School Food Programs
April 30, 2021 | Written By: Healthy Schools Campaign
The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion effort to expand access to education and childcare. The proposal also builds on anti-poverty measures such as the expanded child tax credit to reduce child poverty, and on school food programs that Healthy Schools Campaign has identified as essential to reduce hunger and improve nutrition.
Reaffirming a commitment to food assistance programs included in the American Rescue Plan, the new plan calls for investing $25 billion to make the summer Pandemic EBT program permanent and available to all children receiving free and reduced-price school meals. The program provides modest grocery benefits during summer months when children are not in school.
In addition, the plan encourages more schools to offer free school meals for all children by providing higher reimbursement, and it proposes enhanced reimbursement for schools adopting specific nutritional measures that exceed current standards.
The following statement is from Rochelle Davis, HSC president and CEO:
“HSC applauds President Biden for adding additional support for children and for recognizing the important role that school food plays in reducing hunger and improving nutrition. This is an ambitious plan to support American families — and a smart investment in children’s health and academic readiness.
“A new study from Tufts University found Americans of all ages are, for the most part, eating poorly everywhere — except at school. Food consumed at school in 2018 had the highest dietary quality, more so than food from grocery stores, restaurants and other sources, and it’s the only food source that is equitable — meaning children from low-income households are eating the same quality food at school as children in wealthier households.
“The country made great progress under the Obama administration to improve the nutritional value of school meals, in large part due to the success of the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. But rollbacks under the Trump administration, and a loosening of nutritional targets during COVID-related school building closures, mean we must now take deliberate steps to achieve nutritional standards that we know can improve children’s health and educational outcomes.
“The Biden administration recognizes the need to ensure that strong nutrition remains an important element of the school meal program, and we’re pleased that the issue is being addressed as part of a bigger plan to help support families through the pandemic and beyond.
“Healthy Schools Campaign looks forward to working with the White House and Congress to ensure access to nutritious food, healthy school environments and school-based health services that will help all children, particularly those in underserved communities, recover from the uncertainty and trauma of this past year.”
These are the provisions in the American Families Plan referenced above:
• Expand summer EBT to all eligible children nationwide. The Summer EBT Demonstrations helps low-income families with children eligible for free and reduced-price meals during the school year purchase food during the summer. Research shows that this program decreases food insecurity among children and has led to positive changes in nutritional outcomes.
The American Families Plan builds on the American Rescue Plan’s support for Summer Pandemic-EBT by investing more than $25 billion to make the successful program permanent and available to all 29 million children receiving free and reduced-price meals.
• Expand school meal programs. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows high-poverty schools to provide meals free of charge to all of their students. It is currently available to individual schools, groups of schools within a district, or an entire district with at least 40 percent of students participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The program is particularly important because some families whose children would be eligible for free meals may not apply for them due to stigma or not fully understanding the application process. In addition, other families in high-poverty schools may still be facing food insecurity but make just enough to not qualify for free school meals. However, only 70 percent of eligible schools have adopted CEP, because some schools would receive reimbursement below the free meal rate.
The President’s plan will fund $17 billion to expand free meals for children in the highest poverty districts (those with at least 40 percent of students participating in SNAP) by reimbursing a higher percentage of meals at the free reimbursement rate through CEP. Additionally, the plan will expand free meals for children in elementary schools by reimbursing an even higher percentage of meals at the free reimbursement through CEP and lowering the threshold for CEP eligibility for elementary schools to 25 percent of students participating in SNAP.
Targeting elementary students will drive better long-term health outcomes by ensuring low-income children are receiving nutritious meals at an early age. The plan will also expand direct certification to automatically enroll more students for school means based on Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income data. This proposal will provide free meals to an additional 9.3 million children, with about 70 percent in elementary schools.
• Launch a healthy foods incentive demonstration. To build on progress made during the Obama Administration to improve the nutrition standards of school meals, this new $1 billion demonstration will support schools that are further expanding healthy food offerings. For example, schools adopting specified measures that exceed current school meal standards will receive an enhanced reimbursement as an incentive.