How long can government programs run without government attention? Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) is a crucial piece of legislation for hunger-relief advocacy that has turned this question into a reality, unfolding every year since 2015. CNR is a vehicle meant to undergo reauthorization every five years, supporting several programs ranging from school meals to farm- to-school initiatives. Its last reauthorization was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Lawmakers should have revisited CNR in 2015 but failed to do so. 2010 CNR legislators only anticipated a five-year lifespan for this bill - meaning many of its functions expired in 2015.
While most of its functions are permanently funded and overseen, they did not account for the COVID-19 pandemic or the subsequent economic collapse. Seven years overdue, Child Nutrition Reauthorization is back on the table for discussion in the summer of 2022. Legislation approved the universal school meal programs in 2020. However, they did not include this in the 2022 fiscal year budget. Without intervention, these programs will expire on June 30th, 2022.
“CNR would have a significant impact on [Feeding America Riverside | San Bernardino],” said Programs Coordinator Paulina Soria, who oversees programs that fight child hunger. “To help improve the health and well-being of children within Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, we would most likely have to improve our programs, like the Grab N Go program, to increase accessibility. We could work with our partners to strengthen free meal sites to ensure children in the Inland Empire are fed. We would also advocate for an increase in CalFresh benefits in households with children, so parents/guardians have the means to purchase more nutritious foods for the children in the household.”
What is CNR?
Child Nutrition Reauthorization is an omnibus, meaning it’s a piece of legislation containing several bills. CNR includes several beneficial packages, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program (SBP), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and the Special Milk Program (SMP). The first instance of CNR was the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, which directly responded to economic and racial justice movements meant to provide lunches (and later breakfasts) at a reduced price for low-income students. Though lawmakers have not reauthorized CNR since 2015, several of its programs have continued as usual. These include NSLP, SBP, CACFP, and SMP, which for the most part, have continued unaffectedly. Other programs like SFSP, WIC, and WIC FMNP are mostly permanent, but for whom allocations expired in 2015. There was an appropriations act in 2017 that helped subsidize the difference, but it expires this year. On the one hand, some operations have continued without issue, but ultimately the policies in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 are outdated. A new CNR is non-negotiable if the US government is to account for inflation, changing agricultural legislation (particularly about global warming concerns), and an economic collapse. One of the biggest reasons Child Nutrition Reauthorization fell through in 2015 was the Community Eligibility Provision(CEP).In short, CEP provides free school lunches to students who come from low-income families. The government reimburses schools that qualify for CEP assistance. In 2015, this became a hotly debated topic and will most likely play a role in the next CNR. In 2021, California and Maine became the first states with a Universal Meals Program. However, most low-income American children still cannot rely on their schools for consistent, nutritious, free meals.
What To Expect This Summer
Congress passed the 2022 fiscal year budget without extending the USDA's child nutrition waiver authority, forcing its expiration on June 30, 2022. Without the child nutrition authority, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and students' access to meals during summer break will negatively affect millions of children. While programs like the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) help bridge this gap, the USDA reports that over the 30 million students who rely on schools for free or reduced-price meals during the school year, only 10% qualify for SFSP. In essence, lawmakers need to revisit and update The Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Universal school lunches shouldn't have to fight for a place at the table in each fiscal year's budget. Congress should protect and uphold CNR legislation.
Fortunately, the House has since released H.R. 6613, the Keeping School Meals Flexible Act, and the Senate has released the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act of 2022. Both of these would help extend the USDA’s waiver authority. There are many moving pieces behind the scenes of the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization. It comes down to sourcing nutritious food from local farmers (note the ongoing Farm Bill talks and the Kids Eat Local Act), expanding eligibility, and increasing funding impacted by the School Food Modernization Act.
Ensuring that children have consistent access to nutritious meals is critical for their education and families. As of 2021, one in four families with children don't know where their next meal is coming from, and half of those families participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP), previously known as food stamps. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), hunger's long-term consequences include lowered academic achievement, behavioral issues, and chronic illnesses like diabetes. These consequences disproportionately affect families of color under the poverty line. Fewer Black and Hispanic families reported receiving stimulus checks following the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act than did White families. The pandemic heightened food insecurity, leaving many children dependent on school meals. Child Nutrition Reauthorization is not only overdue as procedural legislation but is needed if we hope to reduce child hunger in our communities.