Last week, House Education and Labor Committee leadership introduced the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, a comprehensive legislative package that will strengthen the federal child nutrition programs and increase access to healthy meals for children across the country. Introduction of this bill, also known as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, comes on the heels of recent congressional action regarding an extension of the COVID-19 child nutrition waivers through this summer and measures for School Year 2022-2023 to mitigate the supply chain and cost challenges facing schools.
McAleer continued. “Whether it’s expanding universal school meal access through the Community Eligibility Provision, addressing summer hunger through nationwide Summer EBT, or allocating more resources to our schools through increased reimbursement rates, now is the time to move forward with Child Nutrition Reauthorization and these significant policy changes to ensure that children and families continue to have access to healthy meals as temporary COVID-related measures expire.”
Introduced by House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (VA-03) and Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act includes the following provisions:
Expands the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows higher-need school districts to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.
Broadens direct certification with Medicaid, meaning more low-income students would be automatically eligible for free school meals. Massachusetts has participated in a related U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program.
Increases the school lunch reimbursement rate by 10 cents and boosts commodity support for school breakfast, allowing for these programs to be more financially viable for school districts. Both of these items were addressed by legislation introduced by House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (MA-02) this Congress through his Level Up Nutrition for Children in Every School (LUNCHES) Act and Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act.
Creates a nationwide Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program, which would mitigate summer food insecurity for children who may otherwise have difficulty accessing summer meal sites.
Provides additional protections for families struggling with unpaid meal debt, which Massachusetts passed legislation to address in 2021.
Modernizes and expands access to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) by improving telehealth access for clients, expanding WIC eligibility to age 6, and extending certification periods to 2 years.
Improves the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) by allowing for an additional reimbursable meal or snack for children in all-day programs.
Implements tools to expand access to school kitchen infrastructure, farm-to-school programming, and scratch cooking.
Child Nutrition Reauthorization is a process that occurs approximately every 5 years, when Congress reviews and is given the opportunity to strengthen the federal child nutrition programs. The last reauthorization occurred in 2010 with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Although this law expired in 2015, the programs continue to operate and be funded through the annual appropriations process.
The federal child nutrition programs have been critical in providing supports to children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These child nutrition programs can be implemented as sustainable, long-term policy changes to increase participation and access to food resources.
While Project Bread continues to lead the Feed Kids Campaign, advocating for permanent funding for universal school meals for all children here in Massachusetts, and a one-year extension of the bill awaits Governor Charlie Baker’s decision in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, we commend the House Education and Labor Committee leadership for taking steps to move the nation forward in fighting children's food insecurity.
We urge swift action on the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act as it continues to move through the legislative process.
We need our delegation to "vote yes" on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill (the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act) when it comes to the House floor. This bill hasn't come up for over a decade and is a rare opportunity for Congress to make long-term, systemic changes to the federal child nutrition programs.
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