From the Kitchen to the Congress: A Child Nutrition Reauthorization Blog

So, What is Reauthorization?

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January 26, 2009


Congress to take up Reauthorization in 2009

Welcome to the first installment of From the Kitchen to the Congress, a blog exclusively dedicated to discussing news and issues related to the 2009 Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Programs!  Turn to From the Kitchen to the Congress for up-to-date news and information throughout the entire reauthorization process.  This blog will also feature entries from guest bloggers – members of the SNA leadership who will explain the Association’s position on the legislation and offer opinions.  From the Kitchen to the Congress is also a place to ask questions and leave comments about the legislation and SNA’s positions.  We encourage you to engage in discussion with other SNA members and school nutrition professionals throughout the entire reauthorization process.

Before beginning a discussion about the critical issues facing the school nutrition programs, we bet there’s one question burning in your mind.

So, what exactly does “reauthorization” mean? 

In the rest of the entry, we’ll attempt to explain the basics of the reauthorization process and how it can affect the school nutrition programs.

Every five years, some of the federal child nutrition programs must undergo a process known as reauthorization in order to keep operating. The child nutrition programs were last reauthorized in 2004. The programs that are up for reauthorization include the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP), the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC), State Administrative Expenses (SAE), and the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI). These programs will expire on September 30, 2009 and must be reauthorized (or extended) before then.

Since the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) are permanent programs, they do not need to be reauthorized.  Instead, Reauthorization provides a chance for Congress to improve and update these programs.  During the last child nutrition reauthorization, several provisions were added to the school nutrition programs, including a requirement for local school wellness policies and the implementation of new food safety standards.

Whether reauthorizing an expiring program or amending a permanent one, the starting point is the same – Congress must write a new law.  The draft law is known as a bill and it is often written by members of a committee or, sometimes, by the Administration.  The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry is responsible for drafting the Senate reauthorization bill.  In the House of Representatives, the child nutrition reauthorization bill falls under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Education and Labor. The House Agriculture Committee shares jurisdiction over several parts of the child nutrition programs as well. Both committees are bipartisan, or made up of Democrats and Republicans.

Prior to drafting the bill, the committee members gather ideas, opinions, research, and expert experience.  Some of this information is collected through published reports and studies, while some is collected through testimony at Congressional hearings or public meetings. This process has already begun for the 2009 reauthorization of the child nutrition programs.  By using this evidence, the committee members are able to create a bill that accurately reflects the needs of the community. Additionally, members of Congress both on the authorizing Committees and not, may introduce their own bills addressing one of the many parts of the child nutrition programs. These stand alone bills contribute to the dialogue and are sometimes incorporated into the reauthorization bills marked up by the authorizing Committees.  Several of these bills have already been introduced.

After the Committees are finished drafting the reauthorization bill, they are introduced in Congress and given a number.  During the last reauthorization, the House of Representatives introduced H.R. 3873 and the Senate introduced S. 2507.  These bills are referred to as companion bills. Both of these bills are ‘marked up’ or discussed and passed by the appropriate subcommittees and full committees, and are eventually sent to the Senate and House for votes. At this point a select group of members of the House and Senate form a conference committee to iron out differences between the bills.  Once a compromise is reached, the bill is then sent to the President to sign. Once the bill is signed by the President, it becomes a “statute” or law.  The programs reauthorized by the legislation will not expire for another five years. 

Stay tuned to From the Kitchen to the Congress for more information.  Future entries will outline the SNA’s priorities for Reauthorization 2009, as well as offer suggestions for ways you can become involved in this important process.