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Letter to House on FY 16 Agriculture Appropriations Bill

June 18, 2015

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), and the students they serve, we urge you to OPPOSE provisions in the FY 2016 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would undermine the nutrition standards for school meals adopted under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and SUPPORT any amendments that would restore these vital standards. Nearly 500,000 of our members are Education Support Professionals (ESPs), many of whom prepare school meals, maintain a safe and healthy learning environment, and help students learn about and practice healthy nutrition, eating habits, and lifestyles.  We offer these comments from the perspective of representing the entire range of education professionals who contribute to student wellness. Votes associated with this issue may appear in the NEA Legislative Report Card on the 114th Congress. 

The nutrition standards set out in the bipartisan Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act have had widespread, positive impacts on children’s access to healthy foods during the school day. Our nation’s child nutrition programs play a critical role in fighting hunger, promoting health and wellness, and preparing students to learn.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 95 percent of schools are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards. The result being a healthier school environment with more nutritious food options for students.    

NEA believes that proper nutrition is essential to child development and student success. Educators know first-hand that hungry children struggle to learn and that access to an adequate and healthy diet is essential to academic success. According to the Nutrition Cognition Initiative at Tufts University, continuous low nutritional intake affects factors such as motivation and attentiveness, which can have a negative impact on learning. In addition, undernourished children are typically fatigued and uninterested in their social environments. Undernourished children are also more susceptible to illness and, thus, more likely to be absent from school.  

Childhood obesity has been a growing problem for decades.  We now face a national childhood obesity crisis, with nearly one in every three of America's children being overweight or obese.  Obesity can lead to severe and chronic health problems during childhood, adolescence and adulthood, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and asthma.  And, the associated health risks impose great costs on families, our health care system, and our economy.  Among adolescents, the total excess cost related to the current prevalence of obesity is estimated to be $254 billion – $208 billion in lost productivity and $46 billion in direct medical costs (American Heart Association, 2013). 

In addition to fighting obesity, school meals play a critical role in fighting hunger. Eight million children live in households that struggle to put food on the table (USDA, 2014). The National School Lunch Program serves more than 30 million students each day and more than 13 million students utilize the School Breakfast Program – over 50 percent of school children qualify for these programs. For these students, sometimes the only sufficient meals they eat are at school.  We owe it to them to make sure that school meals are as nutritious as possible.

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is designed to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and child up to age 5 who are at a nutrition risk. Yet, this proposed appropriations bill also includes a $139 million cut from the 2015 enacted level in discretionary WIC spending. This further underscores the need to end sequester level cuts to non-defense discretionary programs and for Congress to work together to craft a bipartisan budget that allows appropriators to make key investment in programs like WIC that help those most in need.  

NEA strongly supports the school meal nutrition standards in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.  These common-sense requirements are essential to ensuring all children a healthy and successful start in life, particularly those whose families cannot afford to provide fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods at home on a regular basis.  The benefits and cost-savings to our children and our nation in the long-run will be significant.  

We urge the Committee to OPPOSE provisions in the FY 2016 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would undermine these important nutrition standards and SUPPORT any amendments that would restore them. 

Sincerely,  

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations