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

The Philadelphia Universal School Meals Program

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May 29, 2009 - In 1991 the US Department of Agriculture approved a Universal Feeding pilot program for the School District of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania that replaced the school meal application process with one based on sophisticated surveys of poor populations to determine if students qualified for free or reduced price school meals. Last fall the USDA announced that the Philadelphia program would be phased out.

SNA, anti-hunger organizations and several members of Congress from Pennsylvania spoke out last fall in support of continuing the pilot. Last week USDA under the Obama Administration announced that the decision to end the Philadelphia program would stand and that the program would end this school year.

In the late 1980’s USDA proposed a pilot program as part of an effort to reduce paperwork and create an alternative method for counting students eligible for free or reduced lunches. The Department was interested in eliminating the stigma associated with free and reduced price lunch as well as addressing paperwork barriers to participation for families. In 1991, Philadelphia schools began the pilot program, replacing the practice of requiring school meal applications to be filled out, returned, and processed to determine eligibility for free or reduced price lunches. Instead, a socio-demographic survey established the approximate eligibility rates at select schools where a large percentage of the students would be eligible. The school district then offered every student at those schools free meals and the USDA reimbursed the district at the rate determined by the survey. The School District of Philadelphia covered the cost for the remaining meals. The program in Philadelphia has resulted in increased participation in the school meal program while also saving considerable funds that would normally be spent on the school meal application process.

This week members of the Philadelphia Congressional delegation introduced new efforts to continue the pilot and expand it to other large urban school districts. Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA) has indicated that he intends to introduce legislation soon that would allow the Philadelphia program to continue and provide the opportunity for other large urban districts, such as Los Angeles Unified School District and New York City Public Schools, interested in following the same program to do so. 

The School Nutrition Association has long supported universal school meals as the goal for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Without receiving proper nutrition, children are not likely to perform to their best academic ability.

Opposition to ending school meals program grows - Philadelphia Inquirer


Child Nutrition Reauthorization in the News

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May 27, 2009 -- On Sunday, May 24, 2009, the Washington Post covered school nutrition funding challenges, focusing on the need for increased meal reimbursement as well as increasing access to school meals through eliminating the reduced price category. In the article SNA President Dr. Katie Wilson, SNS states, '"These are families that are on the very cusp," Wilson said. "They are making decisions like do they put gas in their car to go to work, or do they pay their electricity. These families do not have the 40 cents to pay for lunch."' The article details examples from the Washington, DC area of greater demand for free and reduced priced meals and the inadequate funding provided through federal reimbursements that falls short of the amount needed to prepare a school lunch.

Today Reuters covered the challenges to menuing healthy school meals in an artcile that was printed in papers worldwide. Focusing on parent and commercial influences as well as open campus and competitve foods, the article does a good job outlining the barriers that Reauthorization can help address.

 Demand Is Increasing For Subsidized Meals

 Healthy school lunch efforts face hurdles

House Rules Subcommittee Holds Hearing on White House Conference on Food and Nutrition

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Members of Congress are calling on the President Obama to hold a conference on food and nutrition policy.  On Monday, May 18th, the Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House heard testimony from several different anti-hunger organizations on H.R. 2297.  If passed, the legislation would authorize the president to call a White House Conference on Food and Nutrition by December 31, 2009.  The conference would be co-chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture, Treasury, and Health and Human Services.  The last time a conference on food and nutrition policy was held was in 1969, when President Richard Nixon brought the anti-hunger community together to discuss improvements for the federal food assistance programs.

Testifying at the hearing were:

  • Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.)
  • Robert Egger, President, DC Central Kitchen
  • Rev. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
  • Nicole Robinson, Director of Corporate Community Involvement for Kraft Foods Global

To view a copy of the legislation, opening statements, and witness testimony, please see the links below.

 H.R. 2297 - White House Conference on Food and Nutrition 

 Rep. Jim McGovern Opening Statement 

 Rep. Jo Ann Emerson Testimony 

 Robert Egger Testimony 

 Rev. David Beckmann Testimony 

 Nicole Robinson Testimony 

Dept. of Labor: April Food Price Increase was Largest Since Jan 2008

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May 14, 2009 -- Economic indicators released today are just the latest sign that school meal reimbursements need to be increased through the child nutrition reauthorization process in Congress this year. According to the New York Times, "much of the increase in producer prices in April was the result of a 1.5% jump in food prices." 

The food price increase was driven in part by several foods that are common school lunch and breakfast menu items. Eggs broke a record, rising 43.7% last month. Vegetables climbed 5.2% while fresh fruit also saw a marked increase. Beef was up by 4.5% while pork rose 2.5%

According to USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) predictions, this year the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food is projected to increase 3.0% to 4.0%, as lower commodity and energy costs combine with weaker domestic and global economies to pull inflation down from 2008 levels. Food-at-home prices are forecast to increase 2.5% to 3.5%, while food-away-from-home prices (the indicator used to determine school meal reimbursement rates) are forecast to increase 3.5% to 4.5% in 2009. The all-food CPI increased 5.5 percent between 2007 and 2008, the highest annual increase since 1990. Food-at-home prices, led by fats and oil prices (up 13.8 percent) and cereals and bakery product prices (up 10.2 percent), increased 6.4 percent, while food-away-from-home prices rose 4.4 percent in 2008.

As school nutrition programs continue efforts to menu more fruits, vegetables, whole grain and lowfat dairy items, the current federal school lunch reimbursement rate of $2.57 for lunches provided in the "free" category is no longer adequate to cover the food, labor and additional costs necessary to provide the meal. SNA is calling on Congress to provide an increase of 35 cents per school lunch as part of the child nutrition reauthorization process.

Have you seen food prices increase, stay the same or come down a bit during this year's bid cycle? Please post examples of what you are seeing in the comment box below.   

Two New Bills Introduced: After School Meals and Nutrition Information

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May 12, 2009 -- With the calendar year almost half way over, two more bills have been introduced in Congress relating to child nutrition reauthorization, bringing the total up to fifteen.   

Late last week Representative Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) introduced the Healthy Food Choices for Kids Act (HR 2322), a bill designed to improve nutrition in schools by posting nutrition information, developing nutrition information awareness programs, and consulting with school nutrition experts to provide guidance on schools' nutrition programs. The proposal takes a multi-layered approach to improving children's nutrition by both teaching children to make healthy food choices and improving the nutrition of food available at school cafeterias. Braley's bill would create a voluntary pilot program at 100 American schools-ten schools in ten different states. Under the Healthy Food Choices for Families Act, the US Department of Agriculture would award grants to schools participating in the pilot program.  The bill also requires the Agriculture Secretary to report to Congress every two years on the progress of the pilot program. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Courtney (D-Conn.,) Rep. Hare (D-Ill.) and Rep. Loebsack (D-Iowa.)   

U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) also introduced legislation late last week to provide more children with healthy meals when the school day ends. The Stabenow-Lugar AFTERschool Meal Act would make important changes to increase participation in the nationwide school meal program, allowing children from all states to benefit from this exceptional initiative. Afterschool programs take on an additional importance as parents increasingly work longer, non-traditional hours, and more and more children require afterschool care. S. 990 would allow all states to be eligible to participate in the full afterschool meal program. Schools would be eligible to receive reimbursement either through CACFP or through the Russell School Lunch/Breakfast Program, removing an unnecessary administrative burden. Grants would also be authorized to help states with start-up costs. U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also co-sponsored the legislation.

Any comments on these bills? Would your program benefit from offering school suppers?

Reauthorization Hearings Announced for This Week

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 May 12, 2009 -- The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, as well as the House Committee on Education and Labor have announced hearings on Child Nutrition Reauthorization 2009. 

The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a field hearing in Atlanta, Ga. on Friday, May 15th from 1:00-3:00 PM at the Roybal Campus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The hearing will focus on the benefits of farm-to-school programs, healthy eating, and physical activity.  A full witness list is expected to be posted soon, however witnesses are expected to come from the USDA, CDC, Action for Healthy Kids and the National Farm-to-School Network.

On Thursday, May 14, 2009, the Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on “Improving Child Nutrition Programs to Reduced Childhood Obesity.”  Witnesses for this hearing include:

  • Representative Mike Castle (R-Del.)
  • Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.)
  • Michele Paterson, First Lady of New York
  • Nancy Cooperman, Director, Public Health Initiatives Office of Community Health, North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, Great Neck, N.Y.
  • Dr. Virginia Stallings, MD, Chair, Institutes of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Nutrition Standards for National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs
  • Dr. Patricia Crawford, MD, Director, Atkins Center for Weight and Health, Berkeley, Calif.
  • Additional witnesses TBA

And next week, the House Rules Committee - Subcommittee on Rules and Organization will also hold a hearing to consider child nutrition related legislation. On Monday, May 18th, the committee will discuss H.R. 2297, The White House Conference on Food and Nutrition.


Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry

House Committee on Education and Labor


Sunday News Round-Up

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A couple of Sunday newspaper articles caught our eye yesterday. The Washington Post had a good piece (Md. Meal Program Suffering in Schools) on the challenges facing school nutrition programs in Maryland: inadequate reimbursement rates, declining paid participation due to meal price increases, and rising food and labor costs. The article could have been written about school nutrition programs in almost any state and come out similarly. It is just the latest compelling article on the need for increased federal (and state and local) funding for school meals through Reauthorization this year. On a related note, 90 of 120 school nutrition programs in North Carolina are now operating in the red due to lack of adequate funding and increased costs.  

The Des Moines Register, the most widely read paper in Senator Harkin's (D-IA) great state of Iowa, covered the other big Reauthorization topic on Sunday: national nutrition standards. The piece (Healthful Shift Ahead for U.S. Schools) explores the challenges and opportunities around the nutrition standards issue and focuses on Senator Harkin's Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act. Definitely worth the read!

Finally, the New York Daily News had a column reiterating the need for significant funding increases through the through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act - a call echoed by food bank officials in NYC. Child Nutrition Problem Hungry for Solutions quotes Joel Berg, executive director of the New York Coalition Against Hunger, as saying "It's hard to imagine a higher budget priority than ensuring that all families have enough to eat."


President Releases FY2010 Budget Request

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President Obama released his detailed FY2010 budget request yesterday, May 7th.  While he cut approximately $17 billion worth of programs, Obama did include additional funding for the school nutrition programs.  Aside from an increase for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, the Obama administration also include $1 billion per year for the 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization.  This is keeping with his promise to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015.

For additional information on the federal budget request and more specific information on the school nutrition programs, please visit this link.

Reauthorization Briefings, Events Begin

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Child nutrition reauthorization related events are sprouting up around Washington, DC.  On Tuesday, May 5th, the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign will hold an event discussing many of the issues facing school nutrition programs.  The first part of the program will feature a cooking demonstration with Obama family personal chef Sam Kass and high school culinary students. Guests will be treated to the students’ award-winning Cinco de Mayo-themed menu of carrot quesadillas, stuffed peppers, and refascante salad. Four school nutrition directors will also be there to discuss the state of school nutrition in their cities.  The directors are:

  • Louise Esaian, Chicago Public Schools, Ill.
  • Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland Unified School District, Calif.
  • Leo Lesh, SNS, Denver Public Schools, Colo.
  • Eric Goldstein, New York City Public Schools, N.Y.

SNA President-elect Dora Rivas, RD, SNS will also be on hand. Rivas is in Washington, DC this week to meet with lawmakers on Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

Also this week, the California Endowment will be hosting a briefing on school nutrition policy.  The speakers will focus on competitive food standards, using examples from California and Arkansas. Speakers at this May 5th briefing will be:

  • Marion Standish, M.A., J.D., Director, Healthy Environments, The California Endowment
  • Sarah Samuels, DrPH., President, Samuels & Associates
  • Joseph Thompson, MD, MPH, Arkansas Surgeon General, and Director, RWJF Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity
  • Elizabeth Walker, Project Director, National Association of State Boards of Education
  • Ginny Ehrlich, Executive Director, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Keep reading From the Kitchen to the Congress for more updates about Reauthorization 2009 events.


Competitive Foods Legislation Introduced in Senate

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Yesterday, Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced S. 934, the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act.  This bill is the companion to H.R. 1324, which was introduced in March by Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).  S. 934, like H.R. 1324, seeks to update the definition of Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value to correspond with current nutrition science.  This bill would also expand the time and place rule, allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to have authority over competitive foods (foods and beverages sold on the school campus during the school day that compete with the nutritious meals available through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.) 

SNA supports this legislation, issuing this statement on the bill.  The Association has long advocated that all foods served and sold in school should be held to an appropriate and consistent nutrition standard.  School nutrition professionals work hard everyday to ensure that all children receive healthy, balanced, and nutritious school meals.  Failing to apply nutrition standards to foods sold in competition with the reimbursable school meals significantly erodes those efforts.

This legislation has the support of many members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are list as co-sponsors.