Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) comes up for renewal every five years as an opportunity for Congress to examine the current law and make any improvements to the federal nutrition programs. The current law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-296), expired in 2015. When a reauthorization is delayed, Congress usually includes funding to maintain the programs as-is through the annual appropriations process, which allows them to continue to operate. However, this means we are about seven years overdue for changes to be implemented to strengthen federal child nutrition programs.
Fortunately, in July 2022, House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced H.R.8450 The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, the committee’s CNR bill. The plans outlined in the bill would address the rising rates of child hunger, support access to and participation in federal nutrition programs, and continue improving the nutritional value of meals provided to children.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) in CNR
Federal nutrition programs play a critical role in supporting the health, nutrition, development, and academic achievement of children. CACFP is a federal child nutrition program that provides reimbursements for healthy meals and snacks provided to eligible children and adults who are enrolled in care at participating child care centers, family child care (FCC) homes, Head Start programs, adult care programs, homeless shelters, and after-school programs.
CACFP reimburses for two meals and a snack, therefore participating programs have to pay for any additional non-reimbursable meals and snacks. This is a particular strain for family child care (FCC) providers, who are often paying for non-reimbursed meals out of their own pockets. The additional costs can be too high as providers tend to earn low wages and may be food insecure themselves. Many children are in care for a full day and often longer, especially with parents working nontraditional hours. Additional meals or snacks are necessary to keep children fed all day but the cuts to already lean margins, especially with the rising cost of food, potentially threaten the viability of programs to remain open. FCC is a critical component of the child care system, serving nearly one-third of infants and toddlers, but increased economic constraints have resulted in over 10,000 FCC closures nationwide from 2019 to 2021 and the loss of more than 46% of FCC providers participating in CACFP since 1996.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, several waivers were provided to offer more flexibility for programs and providers, including allowing child care programs and FCC homes to automatically receive the highest CACFP reimbursement rate regardless of their location. These waivers and ensuing extensions for area eligibility and temporary increase in CACFP rates were lifelines for programs and providers to continue to feed children in their care. Since these waivers were temporary, permanent solutions through CNR are more essential than ever. The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act builds upon the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, when food insecurity increased for families with children, especially among Black, Latinx, and Native American households. The bill would allow for an additional reimbursable meal for children in a full day of care, in addition to many other provisions, such as increasing access to free school meals and extending Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits to children up to 6 years old. This significant improvement to CACFP would be essential to lessen the burdens of high food prices and financial strains on child care programs and providers while also improving nutrition for babies and children.
Timing in Congress
As the 117th Congress comes to a close, we are entering the “lame duck” session, which is Congress’ last chance to enact policy before the new 118th Congress begins in January. The effort to strengthen CACFP started with the House Education and Labor Committee’s passage of the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act. Now, it’s up to the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass a CNR bill by the end of the year. CCAoA and other child nutrition advocates are urging Senate Agriculture Committee staff to negotiate and pass a CNR bill while ensuring CACFP is strengthened with an additional reimbursable meal or snack to immediately help relieve the strain providers are experiencing.
Advocates can help build support for the reauthorization of child nutrition programs by urging their Members of Congress to pass legislation that will ensure that these critical programs are improved, strengthened, and expanded. Passing a CNR bill is a critical step towards supporting child care programs and providers, improving children’s health and nutrition, and addressing child hunger. Take action below: