By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director
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. The House Budget Committee voted to advance the general outline of the overall $3.5 trillion budget, covering agriculture spending, 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 had previously voted to advance a partial proposal of $66 billion in new spending on rural development, agricultural research for climate resiliency, biofuels, and forestry. This week, the Committee finalized an additional $28 billion in conservation spending, which would begin immediate investments in programs towards President Biden’s pledge to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Committee also unveiled $2 billion in debt relief provisions and assistance to “at-risk producers,” including loan payoffs and modifications for USDA borrowers, financial assistance to producers who suffered discrimination under USDA loan programs, assistance with legal issues of land access, and outreach and mediation services. Previous debt relief targeted at producers of color was halted amid legal challenges.
This week, Congressional leadership will be working to gain the coalition of votes needed to pass both this legislation and separate infrastructure package. As part of this process, negotiators will be choosing between many high-profile priorities competing for funding. Now is the time to contact your legislators and voice your support for the measures important to farm to school stakeholders!
This was originally posted on September 14, 2021 and was updated on October 1, 2021.