NSAC's Blog

Delayed, not diminished: Vilsack on Child Nutrition priorities, including Farm to School

February 25, 2010

After being postponed for two weeks by the blizzard that shut down the capitol, USDA Secretary Vilsack outlined the Administration’s priorities for the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization yesterday at a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  The Child Nutrition Act includes authorization for the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, summer food, Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, and the Women, Infants’ and Children’s (WIC) Program.  With frequent references to the history of the School Lunch program (it was begun during the depression and expanded in 1946 at the urging of the military) the Secretary laid out the pragmatic reasons as well moral imperative to improve and expand the programs with additional funding this year.

The Administration’s emphasis is on increasing access and improving quality of school lunch and they are taking a page from the Department of Education’s Race to the Top competitive grants for excellence by offering grants and/or bonus payments to states that implement effective direct certification of students already enrolled in other assistance programs and increasing the reimbursement rate for schools conditional on their improving the quality of the meals they serve, including increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

Farm to school is included by the Administration as a key component of the push to improve the quality of school lunches.  NSAC continues to campaign for a farm to school provision establishing a grants program within USDA to support projects developing links between small and mid-sized producers with the school lunch program in the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization.

The reauthorization plan includes support for increased participation in the school breakfast program, expanding the summer foods program and extending the authority of the Child and Adult Care Food Program to provide food after school in all 50 states.  The emphasis is on finding creative and cost effective ways to extend the reach of the programs with the goal of increasing the number of children participating in USDA nutrition programs by one million within five years.  Nutritional improvements will be extended to all food sold in schools, including what is in vending machines and a la carte lines.  Secretary Vilsack also called for more funds to upgrade cafeteria equipment and increase food service staff training to give schools the capacity to prepare and serve more nutritious food.

Secretary Vilsack pointed out that the Administration’s Child Nutrition proposals support the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative by ensuring that the food children eat in school will be more nutritious and by emphasizing increased attention to nutrition education for both students and their parents.   He also tied better nutrition in schools to increased time and attention for children to exercise during the day — presenting a comprehensive approach to health in schools that will be emphasized and encouraged by expanding the Department’s Healthier US School Challenge to 3,000 schools within three years.

The Administration would like to increase the amount spent on child nutrition programs by $1 billion a year for the next ten years, but the priorities laid out by Secretary Vilsack could far exceed that increase.  The Administration has not announced a funding strategy for this enahnced investment, looking to Congress for leadership on crafting a funding mechanism, nor have they provided any details about specific proposed provisions and their cost.

The nutrition programs are now working under a one-year extension of the Act, which expired on September 30, 2009.  Reauthorization has been slowed down by negotiations over healthcare reform and it now looks as though deliberations in the House and Senate will not begin until the spring.

Categories: Local & Regional Food Systems

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