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Letter – Bill would hurt school lunch access

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.

Signed by

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

US Bill Impacts Local School Lunch Programs

Last week the U.S. Committee on Education and the workforce approved the Child c4hf logoNutrition Reauthorization Bill (HR 5003) authored by Congressman Todd Rokita. The bill includes the following:

  • Changes to the school lunch program that if enacted could make it more difficult and, in some cases, prevent children from participating in the program even though they meet all the eligibility requirements.
  • Changes the guidelines regarding which schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) through the USDA. CEP automatically identifies students eligible for free meals without the use of household applications. Currently schools can participate in the CEP program if at least 40% of its children are already receiving specific government assistance such as Supplementation Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF). The CEP program gives students the choice of whether they want to participate in the free and reduced lunch program.
  • Requires 60% of students and their families at a particular school qualify for government assistance in order to qualify for the CEP. This would affect 120 schools currently in the program in Indiana, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • Under the new provisions those schools who do not qualify for the CEP program could only notify eligible students a limited number of times, creating an additional roadblock for vulnerable families whose incomes fluctuate.
  • Creates a pilot block grant program that would give states the discretion to more freely shape free and reduced lunch programs in their state, including the tests to determine eligibility.
  • Raises the number of students on federal aid needed for schools to gain eligible students. Other provisions include reducing whole grain standard, delaying the sodium reducing target, and prohibiting schools from publicizing the Free and Reduced Lunch program on informational materials regarding lunch plans.

It is not known at this time when the full house will vote on the bill.

If you feel these provisions provide unnecessary restrictions to low-income children, please tell your legislator to “oppose it.” That’s Congressman Todd Rokita for Greater Lafayette residents (phone: 765-838-3930).

To learn more about the potentially negative affects of this bill, click HERE. To read the Letter to the Editor opposing this bill, click HERE. To learn more about how you can help your community through legislation advocacy, click HERE.

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