Little girl eating

Nutrition is critical to the early health, brain development and future success of our children. Hungry and food insecure children cannot learn as much or as well, cannot perform as well in school, have more social and behavioral problems, are more often sick and likely to be hospitalized, and suffer greater growth and developmental delays than other children. Sadly, in our nation, poverty, hunger and food insecurity limit the opportunities and potential of millions of children.

According to the Census Bureau, over 20 percent of American children live in poverty, with over 10 percent of children under the age of 6 living in extreme poverty. For children of color, the poverty rates are even more alarming, with 32 percent of Hispanic children and 37 percent of African American children and Native American children living in poverty. In the past year, over 15 million children were food insecure, defined as having limited availability of nutritionally adequate, safe food. These conditions place an enormous toll of our children and society. Fortunately, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), is helping to alleviate food insecurity for more than 3.3 million children (and 120,000 adults), who receive nutritious meals and snacks each day in day care and childcare settings.

Housed at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the Food and Nutrition Service, CACFP is a fairly small federal nutrition program, yet it meets the needs of some of our youngest and neediest children. It provides a little over $3 billion for monthly reimbursements, training and technical assistance, nutrition education, and food safety information to child care centers, Head Start Programs, family child care homes, homeless shelters and afterschool programs for snacks and meals served to children. Generally, children under the age of 12 are served, but homeless shelters and afterschool programs can serve children 18 and under.

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization and WIC legislation (CNR) authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs (expect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) to help ensure that low-income children have access to healthy and nutritious food. The latest version of that law, the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, identified CACFP as a nutrition program that contributes to the health and development of young children. As a result, additional resources were provided to expand the CACFP for afterschool meals for at risk children from only 13 states to every state and territory. In addition, it simplifies the burdensome paperwork associated with the program.

First Focus has been a longstanding supporter of CACFP. In April, we submitted comments on the CACFP meal pattern to ensure successful implementation of rules that produce the best possible outcomes for children. The rulemaking marked the first major update of the CACFP nutrition standards since the program’s inception in 1968. Along with training, technical assistance, and tools to assist early care and education providers to comply with new standards, the updated meal pattern will promote health and wellness among young children and positively influence their long-term health. According to USDA, all comments received are carefully being considered in finalizing the rule before it is implemented.

We urge Congress to strengthen federal nutrition programs like CACFP in the next reauthorization of the CNR. As part of that effort, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced in July The Access to Healthy Food for Young Children Act of 2015 (S. 1833) to increase support to child care providers to help them provide more healthy meals to young children by adding a second snack or dinner for children in care settings for longer than 8 hours. First Focus Campaign for Children endorsed this legislation, which would also attempt to make it easier for family childcare providers to participate in CACFP by streamlining program requirements, reducing paperwork, and maximizing technology to improve program access. This legislation is a no-brainer, resulting in more children receiving nutritious meals and snacks while realizing administrative savings.

Last week, representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced the bipartisan companion bill to Casey’s CACFP bill, titled The Early Childhood Nutrition Improvement Act (H.R. 3886). First Focus Campaign for Children sent a letter of support for this legislation, which also allows an additional healthy meal or snack for children in care for a full day and provides common sense administrative improvements, which are much-needed to address the current state of child poverty and hunger in America.

No child in our nation should go hungry, and every child should have access to healthy, nutritious food. CACFP and the legislative proposals introduced in Congress to strengthen the CACFP help provide children in need with one of the most basic lifelines to succeed, nutritious food to nurture their bodies and minds, and fuel our future success.

C-A-C-F-P: What it means for our youngest kids: v/ @Campaign4Kids #nutrition #InvestInKids
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