October 16, 2015

During National School Lunch Week, Sens. Warner & Kaine Call for Improvements to Childhood Nutrition Programs

WASHINGTON – During National School Lunch Week, which is October 12-16, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) recommended ways Congress can streamline federal childhood nutrition programs to more efficiently feed hungry low-income children outside of school hours.

The Senators’ suggestions come as the Senate prepares a bill to reauthorize those programs, including the national school breakfast and lunch programs – which serve nearly 400,000 hungry kids in Virginia – as well as the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The last time Congress renewed the programs was in 2010.

In a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee, Sens. Warner and Kaine suggested eliminating red tape and consolidating many of the federal programs that feed kids outside of school hours – such as after-school or summer meal programs – into a single, streamlined program to make it easier for local communities to apply for – and receive – funding to offer nutritious meals to hungry children outside of traditional school hours.

“Under current law, schools can provide summer meals through the National School Lunch Program. However, there are different guidelines, eligibility requirements, and applications for non-school organizations based on whether they are providing an afternoon meal during the school year or a meal during the summertime when school is out,” wrote the Senators. “This creates inefficiency and an administrative burden that ultimately deters organizations from serving meals year round.” The Senators encouraged the Agriculture Committee to reduce the paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles that community-based organizations face in getting federal approval to serve free and reduced-price meals to eligible children when they aren’t in school.

The Senators also urged flexibility for summer meal providers. Currently, only 17 percent of qualified Virginia children benefit from the Summer Food Service Program. By  giving camps, local governments, and other organizations greater flexibility in how they serve children meals over the summer, the program will make it easier for students to return to school healthy, well-fed and ready to learn.

The Senators wrote, “We encourage the Committee to ensure the most efficient and effective methods are used to feed kids outside of the school day, no matter where they live.”  

The full text of the letter is available below:

October 16, 2015 

The Honorable Pat Roberts                                                                         

Chairman                                                                                                           

Senate Committee on Agriculture                                                                            

328A Russell Senate Office Building                                                         

Washington, DC 20510                                                                 

The Honorable Debbie Stabenow

Ranking Member

Senate Committee on Agriculture

328A Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow:

Thank you for your commitment and leadership on nutrition issues. We write to express our support for federal child nutrition programs, to urge continued support for the progress made by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and to suggest improvements to out-of-school time programs.

In our meetings with Virginians we have heard many stories of how school systems, non-profits, and community organizations have improved the efficiency and effectiveness of their child nutrition programs since 2010. 94.1% of Virginia School Food Authorities have already met the nutrition requirements established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, helping to provide children with healthier meals in school. Urban and rural schools alike have worked to expand direct certification of students qualified for free meals, incorporate comprehensive wellness policies, and implement anti-obesity programs. Outside of the school year, Norfolk Public School System has expanded free meals to any child under the age of 18, Henry County Public Schools has partnered with meal sites to reduce paperwork using an app, and many other districts have increased the number of children benefitting from the Summer Food Service Program.

While significant progress has been made since 2010, we recognize that there is still considerable room to improve out-of-school programs. In the 2013-2014 school year, there were 393,814 children receiving free or reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program in Virginia. However, only 52% of those students are eating free or reduced-priced school breakfast and only 17% participate in the Summer Food Service Programs. We understand the current fiscal realities and also see great opportunities with the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization to improve programs that serve children outside of the school day.

As you prepare to reauthorize childhood nutrition programs, we request your consideration of the following priorities for the Commonwealth of Virginia:

1.      Streamline application process for public agencies and private nonprofit organizations that wish to serve school meals and out of school meals so that they can operate one program with aligned program rules.  Under current law, schools can provide summer meals through the National School Lunch Program. However, there are different guidelines, eligibility requirements, and applications for non-school organizations based on whether they are providing an afternoon meal during the school year or a meal during the summertime when school is out. This creates inefficiency and an administrative burden that ultimately deters organizations from serving meals year round. 

2.      Maintain and strengthen the site-based summer feeding model wherever possible. In many urban areas, congregate feeding sites work well. We ask that you continue to support successful sites that provide both meals and summer enrichment opportunities.

3.      Give meal providers flexibility in how they serve hungry children. This can include providing low-income families with an EBT grocery credit during the summer months to allow parents to directly purchase the food their kids need. Summer EBT can work well for the 38% low-income children who live outside of communities eligible to operate open summer feeding sites. Other non-congregate feeding options such as home delivered meals, letting children leave a site with a meal, or programs that send multiple days of meals home with children are other options that have proven to work well, especially in rural communities, in cases of extreme weather, where public safety is a concern, and when sites are not open every day.

4.      Continue to authorize sufficient funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to ensure that every woman and child who qualifies for the program under current law is able to benefit from it. WIC provides critical nourishment to nearly 140,000 Virginia pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their children who are not yet old enough to benefit from school-oriented meal programs.

We encourage the Committee to ensure the most efficient and effective methods are used to feed kids outside of the school day, no matter where they live. Thank you for your hard work and effort to ensure passage of Child Nutrition Reauthorization that reduces childhood hunger. We look forward to working with you on this important matter.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

United States Senator

Tim Kaine

United States Senator

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