Stop the Block: Proposed Block Grants of School Meals Programs Put Hungry Kids at Risk


Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016

With the newly marked-up Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003) recently moving through the House Education and the Workforce Committee on a strictly partisan vote, it is time to confront the ill-advised provisions that make Representative Todd Rokita’s (R-IN) bill deeply troubling in nature. The bill threatens to increase food insecurity for already needy children under the guise of an improved and more efficient system. In order to truly provide children with the proper meals and nutrition that are essential during their most formative years, we need to expand access to healthy meals throughout the year rather than create even more uncertainty for struggling families. Specifically, First Focus strongly opposes the bill’s provision that proposes block grants on child nutrition programs for up to three states, which would provide insufficient funds and abandon the science-based standards enacted under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The bill is riddled with potentially damaging provisions, in which the beneficiaries of school meal programs would be hit the hardest. Sadly, those beneficiaries happen to be disadvantaged children. Some of the provisions in question include: cutting coverage for the community eligibility provision, increasing verification paperwork, lowering nutrition standards for school meals, and limiting the effectiveness Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. These misguided proposals would, in turn, lead to not only fewer children receiving the food they need, but would lower the quality of meals as well.

However, the most troubling aspect of H.R. 5003 is the three state school meal block grant demonstration that aims to replace the School Breakfast, National School Lunch, and Special Milk programs. Under a block grant, the funding for these programs would be capped at the amount that a state received in Fiscal Year 2016. The various current reimbursements that schools receive for providing free or reduced price meals are not included in the proposed block grants, thus limiting the incentive for schools to provide affordable meals.

Despite the bill’s attempts to disguise the block grant as something more revolutionary and flexible, school meal programs will simply be thrown into the mix along with a number of other social service programs, and their funding will inevitably shrink. Depleted funding is not acceptable for these programs considering that children’s healthy development hangs in the balance. Along with cuts in funding, states will also have the discretion to determine which children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals and ignore any national nutrition standards. It is clear that these block grants would inevitably decrease the number of hungry children that receive the meals they need.

Ending child hunger should without a doubt be a bipartisan issue; however, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 relinquishes this notion.  The repercussions of this bill, if passed, would be far more detrimental to this country than the marginal amounts of money that it saves the government. There is no price tag on a child’s health, therefore we cannot allow the passage of a bill that directly hinders the welfare of children and allows for them to miss out on vital meals.