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Take Action Now! Save School Meals

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Stop the Block icon

6.6.2016 On May 18th the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003). In addition to diminishing the impact of the child nutrition programs, this bill included (at the last minute) a dangerous provision to block grant school meals. Advocates, school professionals, industry, and individuals are coming together to tell Congress that this bill sets a dangerous precedent and hurts children by weakening the child nutrition programs. Here's everything you need to know to take a stand for our child nutrition programs.

What is a block grant and why is it so dangerous? A "block grant" is a lump sum of federal money that is provided to states to operate federal assistance programs. On the surface, it may seem appealing to provide a chunk of money to States with a high level of autonomy to operate the programs with minimal requirements. But the danger lies in the fact that because the funding provided to States is capped – and thereby removes the entitlement nature of the basic safety net programs – the programs are hampered in their ability to meet existing unmet need and lose their ability to respond to any change in need (such as, slowing economies or population growth). The federal government is stripped of their ability to provide program oversight and to ensure access to the once-entitlement programs. As explained by our friends at Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, history teaches us that block granting safety net programs does not work.

What are the block granting provisions in H.R. 5003? Under the demonstration project proposed in H.R. 5003, up to three States would receive block grants for the School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program (including seamless summer option and after school snacks), Special Milk, and Team Nutrition programs for three years with an option to renew for three additional years. This block grant proposal would reduce overall funding for the programs, while giving states the authority to determine eligibility, meal service, and nutrition standards with minimal federal oversight.

How will block granting child nutrition programs hurt kids? As proposed in H.R. 5003, block granting the child nutrition programs would eliminate their ability to accomplish their fundamental goals: reducing hunger, improving health, and supporting learning. The "flexibility" provided to States through the demonstration project is at the cost of:

  1. Reduced funding. Funding would decrease not just because it would cap funds without annual adjustment, but also because it would eliminate the additional 6¢ per meal provided to schools for meeting the nutrition standards and allow States to divert federal funds away from providing school meals.
  2. Decreased access to meal service. Only one required meal per day, even though the funding (at a point in time) would have supported breakfast and lunch during the school year and the summer as well as after school snacks, plus no specified length of time for meal service.
  3. Altered eligibility determination. Removes national requirements related to eligibility, direct certification, and application processes.
  4. Weakened nutritional quality. No obligation to maintain the national nutrition standards for which we've all fought so hard to get in place.

What does it all mean? Expected on Tuesday, June 7, House Speaker Paul Ryan will release his Poverty Plan, which is likely to contain one or more block grants, similar to the Expanding Opportunity in America Proposal he released in 2014. Read about this new plan and why advocates are concerned in a statement from our partners at Western Center on Law and Poverty and the California Association of Food Banks. Unless advocates are successful in halting the progress of H.R. 5003, it could be the first piece of legislation to go to the floor that supports Speaker Ryan's plan to block grant the safety net programs we depend on to respond to the needs of California's children, families, elderly, disabled and other vulnerable populations.

What can YOU do? It is critically important that Californians weigh in to protect our child nutrition programs. Here are 4 simple ways you can show your support:

  1. Share this post with your networks. link
  2. Sign on to this letter opposing the three-state block grant of the school meal programs contained in H.R. 5003.
  3. Tweet your Representative. Find their Twitter handles here. Sample tweet: Join @[your org twitter handle] & 1000s of orgs opposing school meal block grant. #stoptheblock #cnr2016 Sign statement today! bit.ly/1VA1C1u
  4. Call or send an e-mail to your local Representative.
    • Find your Representative's contact information.
    • Feel free to personalize and adapt the following script to use for an e-mail or phone call:

My name is (name) and I live in (city), California. I am writing/calling to strongly urge you to reject the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003), which, unlike its name suggests, decreases access to healthy meals and rolls back progress made on nutrition standards.

Nearly 2.5 million children live in food-insecure households in California. For those vulnerable children, meals served at school are a critical resource -- and may be the only nutritious meals they receive all day. Eligible students' access to these healthy meals supports their growth and development and boosts their academic success. H.R. 5003 counters these benefits by:

  • Allowing a block granting demonstration project in three states and setting a dangerous precedent for the future of these programs in all states.
  • Limiting eligible students' participation in the school meal programs through harsh changes to the Community Eligibility Provision, increasing verification that will inevitably cause eligible students to lose access to free and reduced-price school meals, and restricting schools' ability to effectively conduct outreach.
  • Rolling back progress on school meal nutrition standards, which nearly all California schools are meeting; and
  • Denying California the opportunity to implement Summer EBT for Children - a highly effective strategy for reducing childhood hunger during summer months.
H.R. 5003 harms California's most vulnerable children. Please consider the importance of the vital child nutrition programs and let me know that I can count on you to oppose H.R. 5003.

Helpful CFPA Resources

  • Learn more about food insecurity in your county through CFPA's County Profiles.
  • Learn more about student participation in the National School Lunch & School Breakfast Programs and the resulting fiscal impact on California's public school districts through CFPA's school meal analysis.

Questions? Contact Elyse Homel Vitale at 510.433.1122 ext. 206.