Members of Congress Continue to Negotiate Child Nutrition Policy
Meghan Mack (Former Staff)Nutrition
As Congress returns from their year-end recess they have many important items on their 2014 To-Do List. One of the main items for Congress to finish is consideration of a conference report that impacts food and farm policy. After the Senate passed The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 last summer and the House of Representatives passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013 and The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 in July and September, respectively, Members of Congress began negotiating a compromise, also known as a conference report.
When it comes to hunger and nutrition assistance the policies being negotiated through legislation, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, are critical to families and children. A major program contained in farm bill legislation is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). SNAP provides food assistance to over 20 million children every month nationwide and almost half of all recipients of the program are children. SNAP is a critical lifeline for kids with 1 in 5 children living in a household where they or a family member do not know where their next meal will come from. For many children SNAP (and the School Meals Program) provide needed nutrition assistance in order to prevent increased hunger. During the recession and the years following SNAP worked as it was intended to provide nutrition assistance to kids who need it and SNAP continues to help families feed their children during hard times. SNAP was credited with lifting 1.67 million children out of poverty in 2012 and kept many kids from going hungry.
In addition to SNAP, farm bill legislation contains two very important programs for children, The SNAP-Education Program (SNAP-Ed) and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). SNAP-Ed provides nutrition education to children and parents. Nearly fifty percent of SNAP-Ed dollars go to schools so that teachers and nutrition professionals can teach children about healthy eating. Much of the other assistance helps parents to learn how to shop for food and cook meals on a limited budget. With our country working to combat childhood obesity rates SNAP-Ed is a vital tool that works with the SNAP program to combat both hunger and obesity, which are often found in the same populations. It is imperative that lawmakers protect the SNAP-Ed program as they negotiate a compromise on legislation.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is the only program in the entire farm bill that is solely focused on children. FFVP provides a fresh fruit or vegetable snack to low-income elementary school students. FFVP helps schools provide fresh fruits and vegetables to kids so that they can become more aware of vegetables and fruits and the program increases children’s access to fresh fruit and vegetables without increasing their daily calorie intake. While recent proposals from Congress have protected the funding for FFVP it is important that the integrity of the program is protected and that only fresh fruit and vegetables are served. It is important that the program does not turn into a general snack program as this could lead to an increase in children’s calories, sodium and sugar intakes daily. With many products on the market such as vegetable chips and fruit roll ups claiming to be fruits and vegetables protecting the current form of FFVP is the only way to guarantee that children continue to increase their daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables through the program.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives bills cut nutrition assistance programs with the House bill cutting both SNAP and SNAP-ed. The magnitude of nutrition cuts in the House of Representatives legislation is ten times as much as the bipartisan legislation that was passed by the Senate. With children being nearly fifty percent of participants any cut to the SNAP program could impact children getting the nutrition assistance they need to grow up healthy, strong, and productive. If Congress enacts cuts to SNAP, this would be on top of the 11 billion dollar cut to the SNAP program that took effect starting November 1, 2013. A family of three with two children saw a cut of $29 dollars per month in SNAP benefits, which detrimentally impacts the budget of low-income families and their ability to buy food. These cuts put a strain on other family budget areas such as housing, medical costs, and childcare.
It’s important that Members of Congress consider the health and wellbeing of children when making farm bill decisions so that our future leaders and workforce can have a bright future.