Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Action Alert: Congress Needs to Reauthorize Child Nutrition Programs!

Even after the economic recovery, food insecurity in the United States remains at staggering rates: 49 million people live in food insecure households.[1] One in five children live at risk of hunger every day.[2] Katie Klabusich, a policy writer, who has experienced hunger, defined food insecurity in the U.S. as eating “just enough so that you aren't really hungry, just enough so you can put one foot in front of the other, just enough so you can push your body through another workday. ”[3]
Although thousands of nonprofits and faith communities (like many of your churches) offer food assistance, they only provide one of every twenty grocery bags that those who are food insecure receive.[4] Federal nutrition programs stand in this gap. We need both.
Child nutrition programs, encompassed in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, include the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (food assistance to child and adult care institutions). This legislation also includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. The act expires on September 30, 2015 and must be reauthorized before then.
WIC, school breakfast and lunch, after-school snack, and summer meals work together to fight childhood hunger. 21.5 million children eat a free or reduced school lunch everyday. However, gaps still exist: only four of every seven children who eat school lunch also eat school breakfast. Only one in seven participate in summer meals, often because many families cannot reach or are too far away from summer meal sites.[5]
The WIC program serves more than 8 million low-income women and children annually. Pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women and their children up to age 5 are eligible for these benefits. There are four components of the highly successful program: nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, healthcare and social service referrals, and a nutritious food package. Participation in WIC contributes to healthier births, lower rates of anemia, and more nutritious diets for both the mother and her children.[6]
2015 Legislative Concerns
In the past, these programs have received broad bipartisan support. School lunch was first legislated in 1946 and expanded during the War on Poverty; WIC was enacted in 1974. Now, they are under increased scrutiny due to partisan politics.
This year, faith advocates are concerned that improvements in the 2010 legislation, such as heightened nutrition standards and funding for farm-to-school programs, will be scaled back. In addition, we are concerned that funding for child nutrition programs and other social safety net programs like food stamps will be cut. Lastly, we are worried that legislation will include legal-status documentation requirements for school meal eligibility. The school meals program is the only federal nutrition program that does not require documentation of legal status.[7] This is one way that Congressional members could insert their position on the rights undocumented immigrants should have in our society.
Improvements to Child Nutrition Programs
A promising initiative within school meals is the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), a program that opens school meals to all students within high-poverty districts. It eliminates application fees, reduces administrative work, and more importantly reduces stigma for children. It has been rolled out over the past three years. Now, 14,000 schools in 11 states participate, serving more than 6 million children.[8]
More progress is on the horizon. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Linda S├ínchez (D-CA) introduced the Wise Investment in Our Children Act (H.R. 2660) in June. It would extend a child’s eligibility for WIC benefits to age 6, closing the hunger gap for children who don’t enter kindergarten until they are 6 years old.[9]
What does the PC(USA) Say about Child Hunger?
The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirmed the importance of maternal and child nutrition in the first 1,000 days, from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s 2nd birthday. Without proper nutrition during this time, children suffer permanent physical and cognitive delays. The General Assembly reiterated the Confession of 1967 that says“enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation.” [10] The overture highlighted programs like WIC that provide good nutrition for women and infants in this 1,000 day window. In addition, the PC(USA) participates in the 1,000 Days Movement that focuses on adequate nutrition for women and children in countries around the world.[11]

[3] utm_source=Mic+Check&utm_campaign=7b33b2ae5b
[10] Book of Confessions, Confession of 1967, 9.46