Senate Action on Child Nutrition: Good Policy Needs Funding

March 18, 2010

School food advocates have been eagerly awaiting action from the
Senate on the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, the
legislation that determines school food policy and resources for the
next five years. Yesterday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, chair of the Senate
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, issued her proposal: The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010
includes many excellent policy provisions allowing the USDA to set
improved national nutrition standards for school meals and calling for
a ban on the sale of junk food in schools.  However, it proposes a
funding increase of merely $0.06 per meal. 

This
proposed funding is simply not enough. No matter how strong the
standards or how robust the policy, the fact is that schools’ ability
to provide healthy food still comes down to money.

We
know that most schools are already losing money on the food they serve
(the School Nutrition Association estimates that schools lose an
average of $0.35 per meal) and that fresh, healthy food is more costly.
This reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act offers an opportunity
to remedy that by providing increased funding for better school food.
But Sen. Lincoln’s proposed increase is barely enough to acknowledge
rising food costs, much less improve quality or expand access.

Sen.
Lincoln’s proposal calls for a spending increase of $450 million per
year over the next ten years.  This is only 45 percent of the funding
that Pres. Obama included in his proposed budget. For the past weeks, we’ve seen the advocacy community debate
whether Pres. Obama’s proposed increase of $1 billion per year was
enough; with Sen. Lincoln’s proposal, there is less room for debate:
this is clearly not enough for real improvement.

Without
robust funding in this reauthorization, schools will continue to
struggle with efforts to provide more healthy meals. A lack of
sufficient funding will also continue to put fiscal pressure on school
districts, which must make up the difference between their actual cost
per meal and the funding the government provides.  Improved school
nutrition involves increased spending on food, hiring of skilled food
service personnel, training for food service personnel, supplies, and
proposed nutritional programming. We will continue to come up short on
providing our students with nutritious meals that prepare them to
succeed academically unless we provide adequate funding.

While
we applaud the policy improvements proposed by Sen. Lincoln and
supported by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, we urge the senators to increase the
funding for schools to provide the healthful meals that support
children’s health and learning.

The Obama
administration has made it clear that improving school nutrition and
addressing child obesity are high-priority policy areas. Now, we need
the U.S. Senate to meet the budget benchmark that the President has set.

This
bill is moving quickly and we need Congress to hear from advocates
across the U.S. that increased funding for better school food must be a
priority. Please take a moment to contact your senators and ask them to
support a greater increase in funding for better school food, at least
the $1 billion per year that Pres. Obama has proposed.

Take action now »