A Child Nutrition Act That Lives Up to Its Promise

A funding increase that robs Peter to pay Paul shouldn't be considered a "win" for hungry kids.
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On the heels of the passage of healthcare reform, the Senate Agriculture Committee completed their "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010." For months, anti-hunger organizations, parents, food advocates, chefs, and schools across the country have been drawing attention to the opportunity to feed more kids better food through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. President Obama went so far as to put an additional $1 billion per year in his budget to make child nutrition a priority. The bill completed by the Senate Ag Committee will make it impossible to deliver on President Obama's pledge to end child hunger and food insecurity in America by 2015.

The Child Nutrition Act sets rules and funding for school-based nutrition programs that collectively provide food to millions of American children every day. The NYC Department of Education serves 860,000 school meals every day, second only to the Department of Defense, so New York City's stakes in the final form the bill takes are high. School meals are the primary source of food for many New York City children, especially true for children whose parents turn to soup kitchens and food pantries. To improve access to federal child nutrition programs like school lunch and the quality of the food children eat, last year City Harvest and other organizations founded the NYC Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR), a coalition of New York organizations and individuals seeking changes to the Child Nutrition Act.

The "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010" outlines needed reforms like supporting improvements to direct certification for school meals, expanding after-school meal programs to all 50 states, and enhancing the nutritional quality of food served in school and preschool settings, but fails to deliver the funds to make a difference. With an increase of only $450 million per year for child nutrition programs, it falls far short of solving the problems of hunger and obesity. Even worse, a substantial portion of the $450 million increase proposed by the Senate Ag Committee is pulled from the USDA's nutrition education program for people eligible for food stamps. A funding increase that robs Peter to pay Paul shouldn't be considered a "win" for hungry kids.

In a country where an increasing share of health care costs are related to obesity and other diet-related diseases, we shouldn't miss this opportunity to positively impact our children's diets for years to come. But it's not over yet. The Senate Finance Committee can add additional funding to help make up the difference between what the Senate Ag Committee budgeted and Obama's proposed $1 billion addition. Then, the House version can reinforce this improvement. Over the past month, City Harvest has collected thousands of letters gathered by local organizations from their constituents asking Congress to provide sufficient funding for child nutrition programs. Catholic Charities, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York, Slow Food NYC, and other organizations have provided letters. Volunteers from Brooklyn Food Coalition have collected signatures from Greenmarket shoppers. Countless individuals and organizations have signed onto a list of priorities at NYCforCNR.org. Congress must respond to these voices.

The Child Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization every five years, and decisions made now will affect the reach and quality of programs like the National School Lunch Program for years to come, with big consequences for places like New York City, where so many kids rely on school meals. After a disappointing Senate bill, the House of Representatives must at least meet the President's request for an increase of $1 billion per year. It's time to find the money to make sure federal child nutrition programs can fulfill their promise to American kids. What the country can't afford - and surely New York City can't afford it, either - is a failure to invest in our children's futures.

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