Recently, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, under the leadership of Congressman Todd Rokita, R-Indianapolis, released a bill reauthorizing child nutrition programs like the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and WIC.
The “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” contains numerous provisions that would roll back years of progress. Large numbers of low-income children would no longer be able to access the nutritious meals they need for their health and learning, and schools and parents would be required to cut through more red tape to enroll children.
The congressman’s bill significantly weakens the Community Eligibility Provision, which is a federal option in its second year of implementation that reduces administrative work and increases school lunch and breakfast access in high-poverty schools. This provision is popular with schools, administrators and families. It has made the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs more efficient and ensured access and participation among low-income children, which improves student achievement, health and behavior.
Thousands of schools and millions of children nationally stand to be impacted by a return of burdensome paperwork under this proposal, which will likely result in eligible children losing benefits. The bill would end the program for nearly half of the 253 Indiana schools currently participating, affecting nearly 58,000 Hoosier school children. More than 200 additional schools not yet participating but eligible under current law would lose the option to implement community eligibility in future year, including five schools in Lafayette.
We strongly urge Congressman Rokita to reconsider provisions in this bill. We do not believe that it lays out a path by which the reauthorization process can move forward through Congress and benefit the millions of children in need of help from the programs. We recognize that cost savings are being sought, but we fear that it would be at the expense of significantly reduced access to the programs, significantly increased child food insecurity, and harm to children’s nutrition and health, exacerbating the problems that the programs are designed to address.
Katy Bunder, CEO/president, Food Finders Food Bank;
Joe Micon, executive director, Lafayette Urban Ministry;
Elva A. James, executive director, Area IV Agency on Aging and Community Action Programs;
Muff Rennick, executive director, Community Action Program, Inc. of Western Indiana