March 5, 2012 – “What’s totally different about this Issue Paper—and, in my opinion, courageous on the part of SNA’s Board of Directors and Public Policy and Legislation Committee—is that it presents the issue of resources and funding in a different way than any other. Four of the five issues on this year’s Paper lower costs,” said Marshall Matz, SNA’s Washington counsel in rallying attendees of SNA’s 40th annual Legislative Action Conference (LAC) prior to their visits with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Forty years young, and LAC continues to attract passionate advocates of child nutrition, from operators in school districts to industry partners to representatives from state and federal agencies, with registration setting new records year after year after year. More than 900 attendees from all corners of the country—including a new high in the number (100+) of LAC first-timers—have gathered in Washington, D.C., this week, to advocate for school nutrition priorities.
“The theme of this year’s Issue Paper is fairness. Economic fairness for school nutrition,” explained Matz, describing the annual guide to SNA’s legislative priorities as “a mosaic, a jigsaw, in which all the pieces, when combined together, present a picture of financial integrity.” The five positions of SNA’s 2012 Legislative Issue Paper can be found here.
The conference kicked off on Sunday, March 4, 2012, with insights from notable D.C. political pundit Charlie Cook, who set the stage for Capitol Hill lobbying by assessing the factors expected to influence the November elections. Noting that while many of these have factors already have changed in less than six months’ time, Cook asserted that the political picture will become significantly clearer within another six months: “People’s attitudes will start setting this summer. [They won’t] wait until the World Series to make up their minds about who they will vote for.”
Sunday’s program also included informative breakout sessions focused on USDA Foods, marketing and public relations, HealthierUS School Challenge challenges and achievement, increasing the reach of breakfast and section meetings for state agencies and industry. A presentation honoring a lifetime commitment to child nutrition by SNA Past President Dr. Josephine Martin (see the press release here), and a review of the particulars of the Issue Paper rounded the afternoon’s agenda.
On Monday, attention turned to the regulatory side of Washington business. Staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service presented an overview of the final meal pattern rule, gamely fielding numerous questions from operators and industry about both the rationale for certain program changes and the need for clarification on others. Note: SNA members can visit its online Meal Pattern Resource Center for background and regular updates.
Dr. Janey Thornton, SNS, deputy undersecretary, Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, praised the nation’s school nutrition professionals for their ongoing commitment to children. “I want to commend all of you here for what you do and for the compassion you show,” said Thornton, noting that many school districts are already meeting the new nutrition standards and pledging USDA’s help in sharing these districts’ best practices. “So many schools are meeting the requirements right now, with the current reimbursement,” Thornton reported. In addition, Cindy Long, director Child Nutrition Division, USDA, shared details about the progress the federal agency has made toward the provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
To help LAC attendees advocate for the specific positions identified in the 2012 Legislative Issue Paper, a panel of operators and industry offered detailed case studies illustrating the financial impact of unpaid meal charges and the inequitable burden of collecting income data to determine free/reduced-price eligibility, as well as the argument for USDA Foods to support school breakfast.
“For all the policy wonks in Washington, God bless them, you are the ones who are living in the ‘real’ world,” observed Matz, encouraging attendees to make the most of limited time with lawmakers with concise and compelling messages. For example, he noted, “You all know there are SNA members who are on food stamps who still take money out of their own pockets to help a child meet the 40 cents for a reimbursable meal. I guarantee there is no one in Congress who knows that. No one. And you have to tell them.”
LAC 2012 concludes on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. Photos by Rick Brady
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