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Help for Kids Who Need It Most

More than 15 million children lack the healthy meals they need to grow and succeed—a troubling statistic with consequences that make it even more difficult for students to learn in school. That’s why House Republicans are working to strengthen child nutrition assistance with the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003). Introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), the bill will enable states and schools to better serve their students and deliver more help to children who need it most. Among other improvements, the bill will:
  • Make it easier for kids in rural and low-income areas to access food during the summer.
  • Provide a greater reimbursement for schools serving a nutritious breakfast.
  • Ensure nutrition standards reflect the input of local nutrition professionals and the needs of all students.
  • Help providers more easily feed the kids they serve.

These positive reforms—which do nothing to increase costs for taxpayers—are made possible because of a change to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Created in 2010, this provision allows schools to provide free meals to all students if 40 percent are, among other factors, homeless, in foster care, or in a family eligible for food stamps. Conservative policy expert Neil Bradley recently wrote in a post for the Conservative Reform Network’s “Solutions Center,” what this means for taxpayers and those who truly need nutrition assistance:

Extending free school meals to every, or virtually every, student undermines the premise of our nation’s safety-net programs. Providing free meals to students whose families not only can afford to pay for their child’s meals but also were expected to until now results in significant costs to taxpayers … That means that scarce federal resources are being used to provide free meals to students whose families do not need assistance instead of focusing the limited resources on those truly in need.

The solution? Bradley proposes “restricting the CEP provision to certain high-poverty schools,” and that’s exactly what H.R. 5003 does. To better target resources to students in need, the bill increases the threshold from 40 percent to 60 percent, realigning CEP with other policies affecting the school lunch program. As Bradley notes, “such a change would not prevent a single student, who meets the standard income eligibility requirements in current law, from continuing to qualify for free meals.” He continues:

Conservatives believe in a social safety net. It is important, however, that safety-net programs are designed to target assistance to those who truly need it, encourage work and self-sufficiency, and avoid trapping recipients into a life of dependency. A program that provides equal benefits to everyone is no longer a true safety-net program; instead, it is just another government. 

Providing limited resources to those who do not need government assistance is not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, and just as importantly, it is a disservice to those who actually need help. Whether it is through providing more support for the school breakfast program or ensuring students in rural or low-income areas have access to food during the summer months, H.R. 5003 responsibly directs resources to the students who need them most. As Rep. Rokita put it:

We, as Americans, have a responsibility to promote policies that spend taxpayer dollars wisely and a moral responsibility to look out for our most vulnerable children and families. The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act helps us do both.

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