Federal Budget Reconciliation Includes Wins for Farm to School
By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director
This week, Congress will continue work on a budget reconciliation package that offers new funding for a broad range of issues important to farm to school stakeholders. Last week, the House Committee on Education and Labor advanced their portion of the overall $3.5 trillion budget, covering labor enforcement, employment education and training, school facilities funding, higher ed, child care and pre-K, and child nutrition.
The child nutrition portion, estimated at $35 billion, contains several big wins for equity. Most notably, the bill would widely expand the Community Eligibility Provision -- a big step toward school meals for all! -- and increase funding for meals served under CEP. It also would fund expanded summer EBT, as well as school kitchen modernization and training.
Finally, it allocates $634 million to Healthy Food Demonstration Incentive grant for schools to improve school nutrition, including hands-on experiential learning, increasing scratch cooking, and procuring local, regional, and culturally appropriate foods and foods produced by “underserved” or “limited resource farmers” (as defined by USDA). The language of the grant program is broad in this legislation, leaving much up to the discretion of the Secretary. If passed, this will be an important opportunity for NFSN partners and impacted communities to give feedback on how grants can be prioritized and administered to increase racial equity. NFSN has signed on to advocate for $1 billion in funding for this grant, as originally proposed in the White House’s Build Back Better plan.
Other highlights include:
- A federal and state partnership to help parents cover the cost of child care
- Support for universal pre-K
- Funding for states to improve public school facilities
- More robust enforcement of labor standards and protections
- Investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions.
The House Agriculture Committee voted Monday to advance a partial proposal of $66 billion in new spending on rural development, agricultural research for climate resiliency, biofuels, and forestry. The Committee is still working on details of conservation program spending and possible producer debt relief that would be added to the final bill. Previous debt relief targeted at producers of color was halted amid legal challenges. Their Senate counterparts must now advance their own versions toward a final negotiation, but the exact timing of this process is unclear.
We anticipate there will be political pressure on Senate leaders to make cuts to reduce the overall price of the package from the estimated $3.5 billion, or to eliminate “controversial” measures such as debt relief for producers of color. Many high-profile priorities will be competing for their pieces of the funding pie. If you are so moved to contact your legislators this week, particularly your Senators, please do!