WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition, and Family Farms, issued the following statement in response to the Agriculture Committee's consideration of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This sweeping legislation, which includes Brown's Hunger Free Schools Act, is aimed at ending childhood hunger, reducing childhood obesity, and improving school nutrition programs.
"During these challenging economic times, more families are struggling to put food on the table. We have an obligation to connect children with healthy, nutritious meals and to ensure they don't go hungry," Brown said. "This bold legislation is an important first step in ending childhood hunger and helping Ohio's children develop healthy eating habits that will continue past their youth."
Brown is a leading voice in the U.S. Congress for eradicating hunger and improving childhood nutrition. His Hunger Free Schools Act, which would help reduce paperwork and enroll more students in childhood nutrition programs through direct certification, was the centerpiece of the anti-hunger component of the bill passed today. Brown's bill would help more families enroll in the national school lunch program, one of the most important programs designed to alleviate childhood hunger. More than 23 million children received assistance during the 2007 school year through the free or reduced-price school lunch program.
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, however, found that in 20 states, up to 20 percent of eligible children are not getting enrolled. For these students and for many school administrators, the often complicated and redundant application process deters potential enrollment.
Brown's legislation would utilize direct certification- a streamlined approach to determining family eligibility- to enroll more students in nutrition programs. This approach relies on existing data and is utilized to promote broader participation in the national school lunch program. Brown's bill would help directly enroll children whose families receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and Medicaid, into the school lunch program.
During today's debate, Brown successfully passed two bipartisan amendments to the legislation.
Summer Nutrition Service Support Grants: This bipartisan amendment, offered with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) to ensure greater access to summer feeding programs for children. The amendment would provide grants to states to help develop new and innovative ways to retain summer feeding program sponsors. By retaining more providers, sites become established in their communities and children have reliable access to summer programs year after year.
Organic Food Pilot Program: This amendment, offered with Senator Leahy (D-VT) authorizes a pilot program to provide affordable organic choices in school feeding programs. This program is a crucial first step in proving the viability and value of organic foods in the over 30 million school lunches served each day. Proving that organic products can be effectively and economically incorporated into national children's feeding programs is long overdue. Historically, price has been a barrier to organic foods entering the school feeding programs; however, in recent years, the unprecedented growth in the organic industry has resulted in lower prices, allowing organic food to be a viable option for school children.
A copy of Brown's opening statement from today's hearing follows, along with a summary of the legislation.
Study after study has indicated that access to healthy, nutritious foods is essential to our children's health and educational development.
Yet as recent reports show, too many students eligible for free or reduced price lunch are slipping through the cracks.
Too many children are going without meals when school isn't in session.
And in the wealthiest nation in the world, our infant mortality rate is still too high.
That's why the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is such an important step in the right direction as we strive to overcome each of these barriers to a child's development.
This bill is a down-payment on the future success of our children.
Every day millions of school children participate in the National School Lunch Program - from large cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati to rural areas like Gallipolis and Galion.
With the difficult economic climate in Ohio, the number of school children taking advantage of free and reduced price meals as well as summer and afterschool programs has increased markedly this year.
The social safety net is working but we can and must do more.
I'm glad to see that this bill includes important provisions from the Hunger Free Schools Act that Senators Casey, Bennett, and I introduced earlier this year.
These provisions would do away with duplicative paperwork that costs schools and families valuable time and children access to healthy school meals.
By auto-enrolling children already eligible for free school meals, we're making a program work the way it was intended to.
And all of our states would benefit by allowing eligible schools in high poverty areas to serve universal free school lunch and breakfasts.
In Ohio, an estimated 432 schools enrolling more than 150,000 students could opt in to this program.
An important pilot program included would also allow the use of Medicaid data to directly certify eligible children in the school lunch program.
This bill would reach more children that we should have been reaching in the first place.
This bill would also expand the After School Meal Program and promote the Summer Feeding Program - a program that plays a critical role in child development out of the classroom.
The bill would dramatically reshape and update nutrition standards to help us reduce childhood obesity rates and put healthier, more appealing food in the cafeteria.
The new nutrition standards developed for foods not in the school lunch program are particularly important.
When I was in high school, the vending machines sold apples for a dime, not candy bars for a dollar. The prices may have changed, but the value of good nutrition has not.
We know that too many children and their families are struggling to regain their footing as our economy recovers.
The more children who are healthy, the more we can lower rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.
The more children that are not going hungry during school, the greater their chances to learn and succeed.
It's important that we get it right and I expect that we will.
Below are the details of the legislation.
Provisions to End Childhood Hunger
Community Eligibility access programs that allow eligible schools in high poverty areas to serve universal free school lunch and breakfasts. An estimated 10,000 schools nationwide could take advantage of this provision.
• In Ohio, an estimated 432 schools enrolling more 150,000 students could opt-in to this program.
• This provision allows qualifying schools to do away with paperwork and bureaucratic red tape to focus on feeding and educating at-risk children.
Direct Certification in School Lunch Program based on Medicaid data
• Creates pilot program that would allow some states to use Medicaid data to directly certify eligible children who may otherwise miss free school meals.
• Would eliminate duplicative paperwork that costs schools and families time.
• Would establish performance bonuses for states that directly certify a high number of students and also expects that states should be directly certifying 95 percent of eligible children by 2013.
Expansion of After-Schools Meal Program
• Currently, only 14 states may serve afterschool meals at qualified sites. This bill would open up the program to all states.
• Outreach grants to promote the Summer Feeding Program, which connects children with nutrition program during the summer months.
• $40 million in innovative pilot projects. Eligible programs would include the weekend "backpack program," a top priority for Ohio foodbanks.
Healthy Foods and Reducing Childhood Obesity: $3.2 billion over 10 years
Increasing Reimbursement Rates
• For schools that meet new nutrition standards, the bill would authorize a $.06 per meal increase in federal reimbursement rates (currently $2.68 for free lunches, $2.28 for reduced lunch, and $.25 for paid-for lunches).
• Would allow school to serve only one-percent or non-fat milk and would be required to offer drinking water in the cafeteria.
• Would require USDA to establish updated nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools.
• Would provide $25 million for farm-to-school and school garden programs.
• Would update and improve nutrition standards and wellness policies in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
• Would require that by 2020, all states operate the WIC program through an Electronic Benefit Card (EBT) like the SNAP program.