September 15, 2015
The highly anticipated Senate markup for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR) that was scheduled for Thursday, September 17th, has been postponed. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), announced the postponement yesterday, September 14, 2015, noting in a statement that he is “continuing negotiations with ranking member [Debbie] Stabenow [D-MI] to get a bipartisan, budget-neutral agreement to move forward with child nutrition reauthorization. We’re nearly at the finish line.” The statement further mentioned that the committee is awaiting scores on provisions of the proposed legislation from the Congressional Budget Office and will reschedule the markup soon.
Like the Senate Agriculture Committee, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the programs in the House, has yet to release a draft of its version of the CNR or to schedule a markup. Child nutrition programs from the CNR, such as school meals and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), cost an estimated $21 billion each year.
The 2010 CNR (known as the The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) expires on September 30. Despite the fact there is no chance Congress will make that deadline, neither the House or Senate plan at this point to pass a short term extension of current law. Instead, they are relaying on the Appropriations Committees and the likely forthcoming short-term extension of the FY15 appropriations act, to keep the child nutrition programs alive over the next couple of months. Provided Congress is able to pass the short-term extension of the appropriations bills, this strategy works to keep the programs funded, though it does not provide the same sense of momentum and deadline that would be gained by passing a short-term extension of the Child Nutrition Act itself.
CNR and Farm to School
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 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 discussions as various groups have campaigned to either support or roll back the standards.
The 2010 bill also included first-time mandatory funding of $5 million annually for the Farm to School Grant program, a victory won by a coalition led by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition with the Community Food Security Coalition, National Farm to School Network, School Food FOCUS, and the Wallace Center at Winrock International. The provision of mandatory funding allowed USDA to launch its Farm to School Grant Program in 2012.
Since its initial implementation, the program has since successfully funded 221 farm to school projects in 49 States, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These projects have benefited 12,300 schools and an estimated 6.9 million students, helping them to eat more nutritious foods, build up healthy eating habits, and increase their knowledge of agriculture and nutrition. The projects have also helped provide economic opportunities for farmers and local agriculture-related businesses such as processors and distributors. A new USDA report provides a wealth of data about the projects.
As part of the upcoming CNR, Congress needs to build on the success of farm to school by strengthening and expanding the program’s scope and by providing additional mandatory funding. NSAC and the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) have diligently been working to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.
As Congress continues working on the draft CNR legislation, please urge your Senator and Representative to adequately fund and improve the USDA Farm to School Grant Program by supporting the Farm to School Act of 2015. See below for ways to get involved and to help grow farm to school activities in more communities around the country!