A controversial piece of federal legislation known as HR 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, was introduced into the legislative process on April 20, 2016. The bill’s sponsor has stated that the bill will save money and give schools more flexibility to meet nutritional standards. The bill reforms federal child nutrition programs to ensure that states and schools have the ability to provide children with access to healthy meals without additional prohibitive costs. Some of the key provisions of the bill are as follows:
- Improving community eligibility – The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students if the school or school district is in an area of high poverty. Prior to HR 5003, free meals were offered when at least 40 percent or more of the student population were homeless, in foster care, or in a family eligible for other means-tested benefit programs. Under HR 5003, the percentage would increase to 60 percent in order to better target resources to students in need, while also ensuring that all students who are eligible for assistance continue to receive that assistance.
- Summer Food Service Program – This program provides low-income children with access to healthy meals when they are not in school. Under the program, food is served at designated sites that can be difficult to get to for children who live in rural areas or who don’t have transportation. HR 5003 will allow states to provide summer meals away from these designated sites in rural or low-income areas.
- Child and Adult Care Food Program – This program supports meals and snacks served to children and adults in home-based and center-based daycare. Under HR 5003, the eligibility determinations for the program would be lengthened from one to four months after approval.
There are those that support this bill and others that oppose it. Those that support the bill say that the bill’s estimated $1 billion of savings over a 10 year period could be used for other nutritional programs for children and that changing the nutritional standards would result in children being offered food that they actually like and will eat instead of food the government thinks they should eat. Those that oppose the bill criticize it because they see it as a plan to cut back on availability of free and reduced-price healthy meals for needy children.
On May 18, 2016, a committee issued a report to the full chamber recommending that the bill be considered further. The bill would still need to be passed by both the House and Senate and then signed by the President in order for it to become a law.