May 5, 2010
This Monday, May 3, NSAC and 40 other national agriculture, health, and food business organizations delivered a letter to House and Senate Congressional leaders urging them to include $50 million in mandatory funding for programs linking farmers with local schools as part of the 2010 Child Nutrition Act reauthorization.
Among the signers were American Public Health Association, School Nutrition Association, US Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, National Association of State Boards of Education, and United Fresh Produce Association.
Farm to school programs provide an opportunity to feed school children more healthfully by enhancing existing nutrition programs, while at the same time cultivating new markets for farmers and stimulating rural economies. These goals align with the Let’s Move initiative spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as USDA Secretary Vilsack’s focus on creating new opportunities in rural areas.
Given these priorities, NSAC hopes that the administration will take a leadership role in urging Congress to move forward on reauthorization, including $50 million for Farm to School.
The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization of 2004 created the first farm to school program, but in subsequent years, the program never received any appropriated funds.
In 2010, Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) each introduced farm to school bills that include $50 million in mandatory funding for a program to be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Representatives Farr (D-CA) and Putnam (R-FL) included $50 million for farm to school in their Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Act of 2009 (H.R. 4333) as did Senator Boxer in her Growing Farm to School Protection Act (S. 3144).
Sen. Leahy’s bill (S. 3123) was included in the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010 — the vehicle for reauthorization — that was voted out of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee unanimously on March 24 and is waiting to go to the Senate floor. During markup in the Senate Committee, the bill reduced the funding level for farm to school to $40 million. In the House, Rep. Holt’s bill, the Farm to School Improvements Act (H.R. 4710), is waiting for consideration by the Education and Labor Committee.
Where We are Now
The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization has been slowed in both houses of Congress by concerns about how funding increases will be paid for. The Senate bill approved by Committee increases funding for child nutrition programs by half of the Administration’s proposed $1 billion per year and pays for the increases mainly with cuts to nutrition education programs for SNAP (formerly food stamp) participants and to a popular conservation program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Some anti-hunger and nutrition groups are disappointed that the bill does not achieve the President’s funding goal and are reluctant to support cuts to nutrition education while a coalition of farm and environmental groups, including NSAC, decried the use of conservation funds that would not only cut current expenditures but reduce the baseline for programs going into the 2012 Farm Bill.
The House has yet to take up consideration of child nutrition reauthorization but Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has said that he will not agree to cuts in farm bill programs, including cuts to EQIP, to pay for any funding increases.
Discussions of funding mechanisms continue, with attention increasingly focused on the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee. Closing tax loopholes were used to pay for improved food stamp benefits during the 2008 Farm Bill negotiations, and many observers have suggested a similar maneuver could be used to pay for improved school meals.