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A Matter of Fact: Improving Child Nutrition

Helping children access nutritious meals has long been a national priority. That’s why House Republicans have introduced H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, to strengthen nutrition assistance for children, families, and taxpayers.
 
Introduced by Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), the bill will ensure states, schools, and providers have the flexibility they need to provide children access to healthy meals without additional or prohibitive costs.
 
Unfortunately, before the bill was even introduced, partisan attacks were already taking aim at it. And not surprisingly, these attacks are from the same organizations that championed a massive expansion of the federal government’s role in child nutrition—an expansion that has led to higher costs for schools and fewer children being served.
 
One of the leading attacks surrounds changes to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Created by the Democrat-led Congress in 2010, CEP allows schools to provide free meals to all students if 40 percent or more are, among other factors, homeless, in foster care, or in a family eligible for welfare or food stamps.

While CEP has helped schools administer these programs, it has also allowed taxpayer dollars to subsidize students who are not eligible for assistance—something Congress has tried to avoid since these programs were first created more than 50 years ago.
 
Chairman Rokita’s bill will increase the threshold from 40 percent to 60 percent, realigning CEP with other policies affecting the school lunch program. In doing so, the proposal will better serve students in need.
 
Unfortunately, critics are using doomsday scenarios and scare tactics to claim otherwise. It’s even been written that the bill would threaten “3.4 million students’ access to school meals.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s get the facts straight.

 

  • FACT: Every child who is eligible to receive assistance today will remain eligible for assistance under the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. All students in need will still be able to access healthy meals.

  • FACT: The legislation will improve community eligibility by better targeting limited taxpayer resources to students most in need, including those who are homeless, in foster care, or part of a family eligible for programs like welfare or food stamps.
     
  • FACT: By better targeting assistance, the bill increases the reimbursement for breakfast meals for the first time in more than 20 years, without adding any additional cost to taxpayers.

 
As Chairman Rokita explained, “This bill will strengthen our commitment to those in need of nutrition assistance by enhancing program integrity and fighting fraud, waste, and abuse.” Improving community eligibility is just one way it will do so, but it’s not the only way. The bill will also:
 

  • Ensure federal nutrition standards reflect the input of school leaders, are based on sound science, and meet the needs of all students.
     
  • Enhance the verification process to increase accountability and transparency, and rein in fraud and abuse.
     
  • Provide states more flexibility to serve nutritious meals during the summer, especially to children living in rural and low-income areas.
     
  • Strengthen the integrity and efficiency of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
     
  • Support nutrition education across programs and help bring families into schools to engage in the healthy development of their children.


That’s why school leaders have voiced their support for reforms in the proposal. In the words of the National School Boards Association, the bill “makes substantive progress toward incorporating local school district perspectives into [the] administration of child nutrition programs—perspectives that ensure children can access both healthy nutrition and a world class education so vital to student success.”
 
These aren’t partisan talking points. They’re real reforms that the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 will deliver for student and their families. And that’s a fact.

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