public-policy newsletter

Issue Feature: Child Nutrition Reauthorization

September 25, 2019

By Zachary Tashman

What is Child Nutrition Reauthorization?

Child Nutrition reauthorization refers to the process of updating and making changes to multiple child nutrition programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The reauthorization process encompasses many programs that provide supports and services that help children and families afford food, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). A full list of programs can be found here. The last full reauthorization was in 2010.

The NSLP and SBP, programs that serve breakfast, lunch, and snacks to children during the school year, make up more than 80 percent of all federal child nutrition spending, and serve over 30 million children each day. Through federal reimbursements to schools, these programs offer free meals to students from households that earn less than 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), and reduced priced meals to students from households that earn less than 185 percent of the FPL. For the 17 percent of American children living in households facing food insecurity, federal nutrition programs sometimes provide students with the only meal they will have in a day.

In 2018, The NSLP and SBP had a combined expenditure of $18.2 billion. Other major federal nutrition programs in 2018 included the CACFP ($3.6 billion), WIC ($6.1 billion), and the Summer Food Service Program ($472 million).

The Reauthorization Process

Although the largest of these programs are permanently authorized through mandatory spending, such as the NSLP and SBP, Congress has traditionally reviewed and updated the laws governing nutritional programs through the reauthorization process approximately every five years. It has been nine years since the last reauthorization legislation became law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, with some of its provisions having expired on September 30, 2015. These expired programs included the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and WIC. Though Congress has maintained funding levels of the discretionary nutrition programs through the annual appropriations process, reauthorization provides an opportunity to improve and strengthen the child nutrition programs so that they better support families and children.

Full Reauthorization Efforts

The 116th Congress has not yet introduced a comprehensive Child Nutrition reauthorization bill, and House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) continue to negotiate a bipartisan solution. One issue likely to come up during negotiations is flexibility in national school lunch nutritional standards, such as added milk variety and grain standards. In February, The Department of Agriculture began to ease whole grain and sodium requirements, and allow 1% flavored milk in school meals. Another reported sticking point is the community eligibility standard, a federal program that allows districts to offer free meals to all students, regardless of income as well as oversight of the summer food-service program.

Although there is no full reauthorization bill up for consideration, the 116th Congress has introduced multiple individual bills that would impact these programs.

Stand Alone Bills in the 116th Congress

The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2019 (S.1119/H.R.2311) would prohibit schools from using wristbands or hand-stamps to publicly identify a child who is receiving aid through the federal child nutrition programs. The legislation also would require that any communication related to lunch debt be directed to parents or guardians.

The SPARK Act (H. R. 4259) would extend the free school meals program to children who have been placed with a relative or family friend through a state agency would be given the same streamlined school nutrition support as children in foster care. This legislation would have an impact on the approximately 400,000 children who have been diverted from child welfare agencies to kinship care arrangements.

The Kids Eat Local Act (S.1817/H.R.3220) would support local and regional food systems by providing regulatory flexibility around the use of geographic preference for the procurement of school foods. The legislation would allow schools to use “locally grown, locally raised, and locally caught” in procurement requests. Farmers, businesses, and educators have repeatedly made requests for location-based product specifications in procurement. The bill has no cost for the federal government or school meals programs; instead, it helps to create new markets for farmers and creates more healthy options for school children.

The Summer Meals and Learning Act (S.2070 H.R.3667) would provide $25 million in grants over the next five years to state library administrative agencies to enable them to award subgrants for lunches provided during summer early literacy programs.

The Farm to School Act (S.2026/H.R.3562) would reauthorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA’s) Farm to School Program through Fiscal Year 2024 and modify the program. The bill would provide the USDA with $75 million over the next five years in grants to award to schools to improve local food procurement and distribution options for agricultural producers. Schools that participate in the Summer Food Service Program for children, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the School Breakfast Program would be eligible for these grants as well. The bill also requires the USDA to provide technical assistance to increase awareness of and participation in farm to school programs among agricultural producers.

Looking Forward

The National Assembly supports reauthorizing and strengthening federally funded child nutrition programs. No child should go hungry at school because they cannot afford a meal. Research shows that children who receive proper nourishment show up to school ready to learn and participate. Ensuring that every child receives a healthy and affordable meal at school is essential to creating equity in the classroom and giving each student a chance to achieve their full academic potential.

The National Assembly will continue to track the issue and update members on added bills or movement in Congress. For more information on Federal legislation impacting the human service sector, check out PolicySource.

For more information on this issue contact Zachary Tashman at