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Committee Finds Federal Expansion Into School Meals Raises Costs
May also lead to wasted food and fewer children served

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), today held a hearing on the recent expansion of federal child nutrition programs. The hearing, “Examining the Costs of Federal Overreach into School Meals,” featured testimony from school leaders and child nutrition experts who described the negative consequences stemming from the 2010 law.

During his opening remarks, Chairman Hunter stated, “Despite concerns raised by school administrators, taxpayers, a bipartisan coalition of state governors, and leaders of the nation’s school boards, the previous Democrat Majority pursued a massive and costly expansion of the federal government’s role in child nutrition.” 

Chairman Hunter continued, “Let me be clear: We all want to combat child hunger and improve the health and well-being of low-income families. However, we should reject the false choice between our support of child nutrition and the critical need to rein in the size and cost of the federal government.”

Witnesses described a number of challenges resulting from the new law and its regulations, including:

Higher Costs

“The Department of Agriculture’s proposed regulation for school meals estimates $6.8 billion over five years in additional cost resulting from the proposed rules with less than $1.6 billion in additional school lunch reimbursements -- leaving over a $5 billion shortfall for state and local food services officials to attempt to cover.” – Sally Spero, Food Planning Supervisor, San Diego Unified School District, San Diego, CA

“It is important to note that USDA’s cost projections were completed using data that is almost 10 years old and does not take into account current economic conditions, rising fuel prices, and increased food costs. This means the true “added costs” may be far more severe than IOM or USDA ever anticipated.” – Barry Sackin, Owner, B. Sackin and Associates, Murrieta, CA

“The impact of the proposed rule will at a minimum be $78,774 for my department which in terms of education budgets is equal to a teacher’s salary in the surrounding area… The proposed rule is essentially an unfunded mandate, which will harm my program.” – Karen Castaneda, Director of Food Service, Pennridge School District, Perkasie, PA

Wasted Food

“Nothing is achieved when money is spent on food that children won’t even be able to consume and nothing is more disheartening to a school food service professional than to see perfectly good and perfectly untouched food thrown into the trash.” – Sally Spero

“In order for children to successfully change their eating habits commitment is required from parents, the community, the restaurant industry and the food manufacturing industry.  When change occurs simultaneously at all levels success can be forthcoming.  However under the proposed rule, school meals would become so restrictive they would be unpalatable to many students.  This fact alone will make it very difficult.”– Karen Castaneda

Fewer Children Served

“Moreover, some of the new untried and untested federal requirements could decrease participation in the national school meals programs, leaving some children hungry and driving others to less-healthy alternatives.” – Sally Spero

“While in an ideal world, many of the recommendations contained in the proposed rule are very desirable, the reality is that some of them may undermine student access and participation, in part by increasing costs at all points along the supply chain to a point where the program is no longer sustainable.” – Barry Sackin

To review witness testimony, opening statements, or view an archived hearing webcast, visit /hearings

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