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Letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee on Child Nutrition Reauthorization

January 19, 2016

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), and the students they serve, we would like to offer our views on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill scheduled for Senate Agriculture Committee markup this Wednesday. We hope the Committee will continue to take a thoughtful bipartisan approach in reauthorizing child nutrition programs, by building off of the successes of the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFK).

Our nation’s child nutrition programs play a critical role in fighting hunger, promoting health and wellness, and preparing students to learn. Maintaining the healthy nutrition guidelines set by the HHFK is a top priority for NEA. These nutrition standards have had widespread, positive impacts on children’s access to healthy foods during the school day. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that over 95 percent of schools are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards.

The bill maintains support for the healthy guidelines for school meals - while not mandating specific changes to the standards, the proposal does instruct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to revise guidelines for meals’ whole grain and sodium content. We hope that these revisions will be done with students’ needs put front and center.

We support the inclusion of streamlining summer and afterschool meal coordination, which will allow afterschool meal sites to choose to operate year-round through the Summer Food Service Program. The bill also improves the summer food program by establishing a pilot program for summer food providers to offer a third meal, and the opportunity for limited use of electronic benefit transfer cards for access to food in the summer.  We also appreciate the inclusion of federal funding for an additional snack for children who are in child care for nine or more hours a day, and the expansion of the Farm-to-School Program.

The bill also supports healthy school foods by establishing loan assistance and grant programs to help school districts upgrade their food service equipment and facilities. Additionally, training provisions for school food service personnel are an important step forward but we urge the Committee to clarify language that required training be conducted during paid working hours for school food service professionals to ensure the greatest level of participation of employees who often make less than a living wage and must work multiple jobs to help support their families.

We are also very concerned with the significant change in verification requirements for school meals programs. Moving the verification percentage from three to as much as 10 percent will create an enormous administrative burden on schools particularly in the early years of implementation while schools are simultaneously working to implement the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act at the local level. School districts will have increased responsibility to reach out and make multiple follows ups with families and increased coordination with already reduced state administrative staff. Additionally, not all school districts employ food service directors leaving increased verification processing to those with an already full workload which will take time directly away from their capacity to work with students. Critically, we want to ensure that all eligible students have access to school meal programs and do not want to see anyone erroneously removed from the school meals program.

Educators know first-hand that hungry children struggle to learn and that access to an adequate and healthy diet is essential to academic success. Now is the time to ensure these child nutrition programs are improved and protected so that we can continue to see the positive affects nutritious meals have in our students’ lives.  We thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments.  We look forward to working with the Committee and the rest of the Senate as this bill moves through the committee process and towards floor consideration.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations