Farm to School & ECE Support in New Pandemic Relief and FY 2021 Spending Bill
By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director
In a late-night sprint on Monday, Congress passed a combined bill of $900 billion in coronavirus relief aid and $1.4 trillion in spending for fiscal year (FY) 2021. While the need for economic, nutrition, and public health relief is far greater than the scope of the relief provided, it nevertheless contains some wins for farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE), and much-needed funds for our farmers and communities.
Highlights of the COVID relief measures include:
- Relief for CACFP providers, replacing 55 percent of the total reimbursement funding lost for each claiming month from April 2020 to June 2020, plus half of March 2020.
- A similar relief measure for schools participating in federal Child Nutrition Programs.
- Expanded Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) to all income-eligible children under six years old.
- Relief funding for a number of local food systems programs, and reduction of the matching funds requirements (note: unfortunately this does not include the Farm to School Grant Program) and measures to better tailor direct agricultural payments to specialty producers.
The FY 2021 spending bill also contains a number of big wins for farm to school and farm to ECE:
- The highest-ever level of funding for the Farm to School Grant Program – $17 million total!
- $500,000 allocated for a regional institute to disseminate farm to school and ECE research and technical assistance.
- $2 million in Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding for farm to ECE work.
- Robust funding for other CDC programs promoting nutrition and addressing racial health equity, such as $63 million in funding for the Racial and Ethnic Aspects of Community Health (REACH) grants, of which $22 million is set aside for Native communities.
Update: These measures were passed in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020.
Our 116th Congress Policy Wins
By Karen Spangler, Policy Director
2020 has been a tumultuous year for so many of us – educators, farmers and fishers, school nutrition professionals, and of course children and families affected by the pandemic and its impact on the economy. While these crises are ongoing and there is still much work to be done, we want to take a moment to recognize the hard-won progress that our movement has made, together, in federal farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) policy during the 116th Congress. In particular, there have been numerous important marker bills introduced in both the US House and Senate since this Congress convened in January 2019, including:
- Small Farm to School Act: Would create an eight state pilot program of local procurement incentives providing extra reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program.
- Farm to School Act: Would expand funding and eligibility for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, and increase equity by prioritizing grants that engage diverse farmers, serve high-need schools, and increase partnerships between tribal schools and tribal producers.
- Kids Eat Local Act: Would allow schools to require local procurement for child nutrition programs, rather than including geographic preference as just one factor in the overall bid.
- Universal School Meals Program Act of 2019: Would establish free breakfast, lunch, and summer food service available to all children in school and early care and education, including an incentive to procure at least 30% of ingredients locally.
- Justice for Black Farmers Act: Would address discriminatory practices in USDA policies, including establishing independent civil rights oversight, creating a land grant system for Black farmers, and banning anti-competitive practices in livestock and poultry.
- School Food Modernization Act: Would provide grants, loan guarantees, and technical assistance to help school nutrition professionals have the infrastructure and equipment they need to prepare meals with more fresh and unprocessed ingredients.
- Improving Training for School Food Service Workers Act: Would require that USDA-provided training for local food service personnel take place during regularly scheduled, paid hours, and use hands-on methods whenever possible.
- Food and Nutrition Education Act: Would establish a pilot program to support local education agencies to hire full-time food and nutrition educators, school gardens, and other hands-on nutrition learning opportunities for students.
- Local School Foods Expansion Act: Would establish the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fresh Fruits and Vegetables as a permanent program and expand it to more states.
You can read more about each of these bills and see who co-sponsored them here.
Despite the difficulties of this year, these are shining bright spots that can set us up for significant federal policy opportunities with the new 117th Congress in 2021. To make that happen, your legislators need to hear from you that these marker bills are important!
ACTION: Take 2 minutes to scan the list of co-sponsors of these bills, identify if any are your members of Congress, and give them a call at the Capitol switchboard [202-224-3121] to thank them for their leadership. Then, take a second to thank yourself and your fellow farm to school advocates for your own hard work that has laid the foundation for these policy wins to be possible.
When the 117th Congress begins on January 3, 2021, we will need legislative champions to advance the priorities of farm to school and farm to ECE, including re-introducing bills like these and passing the critical COVID-19 relief measures our communities need. (Read more about the COVID-19 federal measures we’re pushing for here.) Your voices have never been more necessary to thank federal farm to school champions and forge ahead on policies towards a just food system.
P.S. Your donations make our policy work possible and will help us continue important farm to school and ECE advocacy with the next Congress. Will you make an end of year, tax-deductible donation today to support our ongoing policy efforts? Thank you!
Looking Back and Ahead: Our Racial Equity Journey in 2020 and into 2021
By Helen Dombalis, Executive Director
National Farm to School Network was founded in 2007 on core values including food justice, and we have more recently moved to focus on the importance of race in this work, since food justice is racial justice. We are also working to move beyond words into action, since while words like our equity commitment statement matter, words alone will not achieve a racially just food system. We also need tangible action, such as our efforts in 2019.
Twice in 2020 - in January and June - we publicly made commitments to action for racial justice through our work and have been carrying through on those steps throughout the year. This fall, we launched our call to action for the food system that will guide us in the years ahead.
In the spirit of holding ourselves accountable and in hopes of inspiring each of you to set measurable goals in your work towards achieving racial justice in our food system, we’re sharing our story from 2020. We’d love to hear your story too!
2020: Reflecting back, we:
- Shared our actionable commitments to advancing equity in 2020, not knowing what 2020 had in store. We pivoted our efforts as needed to adapt to the realities and priorities of the moment.
- Became more explicit and vocal that there is no food justice without racial justice. We spoke out against racism, exploitation, and oppression, including for George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Jacob Blake.
- Targeted our COVID-19 Relief Funds to Black- and Indigenous-led, -staffed, and -serving organizations. This decision inspired other national organizations to do so in their grant selection and awards.
- Were more honest about the role of white-led organizations in being allies in this work.
- Received mostly positive feedback on our statements. Some members in our network do not yet see the connection between farm to school and racial justice, which indicates further work we have to do.
- Issued our call to action for the food system: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system.
- Held our first Movement Meeting, focused entirely on racial justice.
- Launched our Equity Learning Lab.
- Continued monthly staff calls and weekly team calls devoted to racial equity in our work.
- Worked with external equity consultants to push and challenge us.
- Required equity goals be embedded in all staff job plans.
- Supported staff in attending Soul Fire Farm’s Uprooting Racism Training and Race Forward’s Building Racial Equity trainings (both highly recommended!).
- Started all of our meetings with community agreements.
- Started identifying and correcting examples of deficit-based language in our writing, and we continue to push ourselves to be justice-centered in our communications.
- Started examining white supremacist culture at our organization.
2021: Looking ahead, we will be:
- Updating our mission and vision and our values to explicitly center them in racial justice.
- Updating our equity commitment to provide more context about the history and intentional exploitation and oppression behind the statistics we cite.
- Asking ourselves and all of you what shifting power looks like and setting measurable goals and tracking progress towards this.
- Updating our equity assessment tool for programs and policies.
- Developing an organizational equity assessment tool for us and our partners.
- Continuing to invest in racial equity professional development opportunities for staff and board members.
- Creating a “People to People Language Guide” for communicating about race, ethnicity, gender, social class, disability status, and other forms of identity.
- Continuing work with our external equity consultants.
- Continuing to examine and address white supremacist culture in our organization.