Wednesday, May 4, 2016

House Child Nutrition Authorization Bill Cause for Concern

May 4, 2016

Dear Members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce:
We, the undersigned faith organizations and members of the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs, are deeply concerned about the proposed Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation being considered by the House Education and the Workforce Committee (H.R. 5003). We are called by our faith traditions to feed the hungry and to care for the most vulnerable in our society. Our efforts in local communities serve as a vital lifeline for struggling people, but we cannot match the role of government in assisting and supporting the nearly 16 million children who live at risk of hunger. Therefore, we are called to advocate for robust child nutrition programs.
Today, 1 in 5 children in the United States live at risk of hunger. Hunger is particularly devastating for children, as childhood hunger and malnutrition impair proper physical and cognitive development and hold back our nation’s young from reaching full potential in life. Child nutrition programs should ensure that all children, regardless of race, class, or zip code, have the food they need to live healthy childhoods, to succeed in school, and to reach their full potential.
We urge you to make the following changes to the legislation:
·       Community Eligibility Provision: We are deeply concerned about the proposal to raise the eligibility threshold for schools to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) from 40% to 60% eligible students. If this proposal is included, more than seven thousand currently participating schools would need to reinstate a paper application process and return to monitoring the eligibility of their students.  These schools serve nearly 3.4 million students.[1]  More than 11,500 schools that qualify for community eligibility but have not yet adopted it would lose the ability to participate, making it more difficult for millions of additional students to receive needed school meals. Inevitably some students eligible for lunch and breakfast programs will lose access due to an administratively burdensome application process, denying the food they need to thrive. Further, CEP removes the stigma students may encounter when receiving a free or reduced price meal. CEP adds the dignity our faith traditions call us to provide when serving those in need. We urge the committee to maintain the 40% threshold for CEP to maintain sufficient access to school lunch programs.

·       Summer Meals: It is disheartening that only 1 in 6 low-income children currently access summer meal programs. Hunger does not take a summer vacation, so it is up to Congress to fund innovative programs that improve access and participation in summer meals for all children in need. Improvements to these programs should prioritize access to summer feeding options for those living in rural communities and on Indian Reservations, who are particularly underserved by current summer meal programs. We urge the committee to make significant new investments in summer meal programs and to support alternative delivery models to better connect eligible children to meals during the summer months.

·       Verification: We are concerned that increasing the number of school lunch program applications that must be verified will negatively impact children and families, as children will inadvertently lose access to important nutrition programs. These processes especially hurt students whose parents do not speak English as a first language or are unable to fill out the appropriate forms. The verification process should not become so onerous that it inhibits eligible students from receiving meals. For these reasons, we urge the committee to thoughtfully consider impacts on schools and low-income families and communities before advancing the proposal to raise the verification cap. 

·       WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is an essential health program for pregnant women, new mothers, and children under five. WIC does not only provide funding for healthy food and formula, but also nutrition advice, breastfeeding support, and referrals to doctors. We urge the committee to find new ways to increase access to WIC by further investing in the program and increasing the child eligibility age.
Our faith traditions compel us to care for those most in need. Our country’s commitment to ensure all children are fed reflects this sacred mandate. Congress’ work to balance the budget and protect program integrity should not come at the expense of child nutrition programs that support low-income families. As you move forward in reauthorizing these programs, we urge you to make smart, long-term investments in the futures of our children and our nation by expanding access and participation in these essential programs.
The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies
Bread for the World
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Islamic Relief USA
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
The Jewish Federations of North America
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Salvation Army National Headquarters
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Institute Justice Team
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society

Signatures as of May 3, 2016

[1] Neuberger, Zoe. Proposal to Restrict Free School Meals Option Could Increase Food Insecurity in High-Poverty Neighborhoods. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 18 Apr. 2016.