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

Recess is Over: Back to Work!

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Congress returns from early spring recess on April 20th after being out for about two weeks. During the recess the child nutrition reauthorization process continued on several fronts including comments at Congressional town hall sessions in local districts and meetings held by coalitions that SNA is active in like the Child Nutrition Forum and the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity with Congressional staff in Washington.

Last week SNA posted a web story announcing Congressional town hall sessions with talking points for SNA members to use. At several of the town hall gatherings child nutrition issues featured prominently. In California, House Education and Labor Committee Chair George Miller (D-CA) held a town hall meeting at Travis Credit Union headquarters in Vacaville, California. While the economy was the primary focus of the gathering, a local news report indicated that a Vallejo Unified School District teacher gave Miller a petition containing about 2,000 signatures to encourage the government to financially support healthier lunches, those with reduced calories and less saturated fat. The petition also supports plant-based food and nondairy, if requested.

Not far away in California’s 17th Congressional District, Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) also made the news relating to the need for increased fruits and vegetables, particularly tomatoes, in school lunch and less cheese. The article that appeared in the Watertown Daily Times on April 16th discusses the political considerations involved in reauthorization.

Further up the west coast in Washington State, Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA) held a roundtable on April 16, 2009 with school district officials involved in the Mount Vernon School District’s nutrition program. A local article on the discussion highlighted the effort to provide healthy meals while struggling with rising food and labor costs and an increase in the number of students qualifying for free and reduced price. The article from the Skagit County News states:

School nutrition programs rarely break even: Last year, only 14 of the state’s 281 school districts broke even on their food programs, said George Sneller, director of student support and operations for the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. “School nutrition programs are in crisis right now,” Sneller said. Last year, the state spent $36 million more on school nutrition than the programs brought in, he said, a 43 percent increase from the previous year. Higher food and labor costs are to blame, he said. “I’m fearful that school districts might come to the point and say ‘We can’t afford this anymore,’ ” he said.

Meanwhile in Washington, SNA staff continues to meet with Congressional staff to discuss funding for child nutrition. Based on these meetings it is clear at this point that the Senate Agriculture and the House Education and Labor Committees are planning to move ahead with Child Nutrition Reauthorization for 2009, the current bill expires on September 30, 2009, but in the past Congress has voted to extend the bill. During the recent recess period, members of the Child Nutrition Forum, which is co-chaired by FRAC and the School Nutrition Association, made visits with officials on the Hill and at USDA, all to push for new funding to expand and improve child nutrition programs. SNA also attended meetings as a member of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity.

With Congress back in session the week of April 20th, a key order of business will be addressing the differences between the House and Senate-passed FY 2010 Budget Resolutions, including funding levels for domestic discretionary spending.  Both chambers passed budget resolutions just prior to adjourning for recess. Both budget resolutions contain Deficit-Neutral Reserve Funds, providing that any new child nutrition program costs will have to be "paid for"--either through cuts in spending to programs within the authorizing committees' jurisdictions (House Education and Labor and Senate Agriculture) or through raising new revenues (under the jurisdiction of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees).

It remains critical that SNA members and all child nutrition advocates continue to contact their members of Congress calling for funding for child nutrition programs. Additionally, there is still time to sign your local organization on to the Child Nutrition Forum Statement of Principles. With over 1,200 groups already signed on – we are approaching our goal of 1,500 organizations. Join the discussion – please post below on the actions you are taking to help secure adequate federal funding for child nutrition programs.