The markup was a contentious meeting, with members on both sides of the aisle expressing concern over the bill. On one side, Democrats proposed amendments to preserve the nutrition gains of the latest version of CNR, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. On the other, Republicans proposed amendments to further limit the federal government’s involvement in school meals. While there are considerable issues with the bill’s potential impact on the quality and access to school meals, one of the very few bright spots of bipartisanship was farm to school.
Several members of Congress mentioned their support of the bill’s farm to school provisions in their opening remarks, including Reps. Stefanik (R-NY), Fudge (D-OH) and Curbelo (R-FL). The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 uses much of the language from the Farm to School Act of 2015 marker bill and includes an increase from $5 to $10 million annually in funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.
Despite this farm to school victory, the National Farm to School Network urges the House to work toward a different CNR bill with a bipartisan consensus, much like the Senate Agriculture version. One of our many concerns with the House bill involves changes to the Community Eligibility Program (CEP). By increasing the qualifying threshold for this program, Congress would reduce access to school meals while increasing paperwork and the administrative burden on school nutrition professionals. An analysis of the bill from The PEW Charitable Trusts provides more details on potential outcomes from the bill here.
During the amendment portion of the markup, 6 proposed amendments earned enough votes to pass. They include:
- An independent study to examine external/private funding opportunities for school meals. Introduced by Rep. Allen (R-GA)
- Eliminating the cultural foods exemption for the nutrition standards. Introduced by Rep. Scott (D-VA)
- Instructing the USDA to provide guidance on streamlining compliance paperwork for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Introduced by Rep. Stefanik (R-NY)
- Including parents, pediatricians and dietitians to the list of stakeholders involved in a three year nutrition standard review. Introduced by Rep. Polis (D-CO)
- Instructing the USDA to consider milk purchasing options for schools to increase dairy consumption. Introduced by Rep. Courtney (D-CT)
- Authorization to use other forms of electronic benefit transfer in the Summer EBT Pilot. Introduced by Rep. Davis (D-CA)
Many of the failed amendments were Democratic attempts to undo the bill’s block grant pilot, increased threshold for the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) and relaxed nutrition standards.
Although the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 has passed through committee, it is still uncertain if the controversial bill will make it to the full floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate is still waiting on a revised Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score to ensure budget neutrality before coming to a vote.
With the legislative calendar winding down for this year, we remain cautiously optimistic that CNR will move forward with the necessary changes to continue building on previous successes and ensure healthy meals for every child. To stay up to date on CNR, sign up for the National Farm to School Network newsletter and follow us on social media.