GOP school meal bill would rollback nutrition standards
(District of Columbia) Federal nutrition restrictions may be scaled back and fewer students could be eligible for free and reduced price meal programs under recently announced legislation.
The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, introduced last week by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., appears to address concerns of Republican members of Congress that the existing school meal program is too expensive and bureaucratic.
Rokita’s bill would, among other things, require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that federal nutrition standards are appropriate for school age children and do not increase costs for schools.
It would also increase the threshold a school must meet in order to provide free or reduced price meals to the entire student body. Currently, if 40 percent of students on campus are eligible, the entire school can participate; under the new proposed law, a school would need 60 percent of its students to meet poverty guidelines in order to take the program school-wide.
“Child nutrition assistance has long played a critical role in the lives of millions of vulnerable children across the country,” Rokita, a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement. “This bill will strengthen our commitment to those in need of nutrition assistance by enhancing program integrity and fighting fraud, waste and abuse.”
Following passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, many schools cited fewer students participating in the school lunch program, more food thrown away, and difficulty finding or affording healthier options that met the stricter requirements.
According to the Education and the Workforce Committee, increased flexibility included in Rokita’s bill would save schools money and reduce fraud and abuse in meal programs.
In order to lessen confusion among administrators, the measure would allow all foods that qualify to be served as part of a reimbursed meal to also be served as an a la carte option. The bill would repeal the ban on student bake sales for fundraising events, as well as the increase in lunch prices paid by students who did not qualify for free and reduced price meals.
Additionally, Rokita’s bill provides a slightly larger reimbursement for school breakfast plans – $0.02 per meal served, with an increase to $0.03 beginning in 2020. The bill would also require schools to review more student participation applications in order to verify their accuracy and decrease fraudulent attempts at qualifying for free or reduced price plans.
Some members of the committee have applauded the efforts laid out by Rokita.
“For years, schools have struggled to deliver healthy meals under difficult constraints and unrealistic mandates imposed by Washington,” John Kline, R-Minn., and chair of the Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement. “The reforms in this legislation will allow states and schools to better serve their students and families, while also ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and responsibly.”
Both the American School Superintendents Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have come out against the bill.