Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have announced the highly anticipated Senate markup for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). The markup of the Senate’s draft bill, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016, is scheduled for next Wednesday, January 20th at 10 a.m.
This hearing represents the first major step toward reauthorizing and strengthening critical childhood nutrition programs, including school meals, WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Farm to School Grant program, which helps to connect schools and their students to food from local farmers and producers.
Unlike the Senate Agriculture Committee, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over CNR programs in the House, has yet to schedule a markup. Neither committee has publicly released a draft of its version of its bill.
How did we get here?
Next week’s markup has been a long time coming in the Senate; it was originally scheduled for September 17th, but was postponed only days before the meeeting. Months then passed without the markup resurfacing as Congress scrambled to fund the government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016.
Without the September markup, draft bills from the Senate or the House were never put forward, and the 2010 CNR (known as The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) expired on September 30. Though the child nutrition programs are kept functioning as long as the government is funded, without a new bill Congress was unable to build upon the success of critical programs, including the strengthening and expansion of the Farm to School grant program.
It was rumored that CNR might be included in the final appropriations package for FY 2016, which was passed in late December and funded everything from research and development to food safety and farm credit programs. Unfortunately, the bill – known as an “omnibus” – did not include a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.
CNR and Farm to School
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 included the most extensive changes to child nutrition programs since the 1970s, including enhanced nutrition standards for school meals, an issue that has taken center stage in this year’s CNR debates.
The 2010 bill also included, for the first time, $5 million in annual, mandatory funding for the Farm to School Grant program, which launched in 2012. The mandatory funding represented a major victory for NSAC and our CNR coalition members including: the Community Food Security Coalition, National Farm to School Network, School Food FOCUS, and the Wallace Center at Winrock International.
Since 2012, the Farm to School Grant Program has successfully funded 295 farm to school projects in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The most recent round of funding, awarded in winter 2015 for distribution in FY16, will impact over 5,200 schools and 2.9 million students across the country. These grants will help schools provide more nutritious foods, help children develop healthy eating habits, and increase students’ knowledge of agriculture and nutrition. The projects have also provided significant economic opportunities for farmers and local agriculture-related businesses such as processors and distributors. Despite the program’s successes, or perhaps because of them, demand continues to far exceed available funding.
Congress now has the opportunity to draft and pass a CNR that builds on the success of farm to school, by strengthening and expanding the Farm to School Grant Program’s scope and increasing mandatory funding levels. Fortunately, the first step toward this goal has already been taken. In early 2015, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children, and resilient farms. We are hopeful that the priorities of the 2015 Farm to School Act will be reflected in the Senate’s draft bill.
We expect to see a copy of the draft bill in advance of the markup and will alert readers to its content, and, of course, we will also report on the results of the Senate Agriculture Committee meeting.
Stay tuned for more information and opportunities to take action leading up to markup next week!