As the summer wound down and kids went back to school, federal legislators returned to Capitol Hill with plenty of important issues and deadlines to address. Here are the policy updates you need to know.
Congress Considers Historic Investment in School Meals in the Build Back Better Act
As you likely have seen in the news, Congressional Democrats have been working hard to find a pathway forward for President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending package, called the Build Back Better Act. They plan to pass the bill through the budget reconciliation process—an infrequently used budgetary tool to pass a bill with only 51 votes (If you are curious how this process works, check out this blog post from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition).
What does this bill mean for school meals? The great news is that the child nutrition provisions of the bill would allocate nearly $35 billion in child nutrition programs over the next 10 years, creating more equitable access to healthy food at school.
If passed, the child nutrition provisions of the Build Back Better Act will bring about:
- Free school meals for nearly nine million more children through the expansion of the Community Eligibility Provision
- $634 million in funding for more experiential food education, school gardens, and farm to school local procurement
- $500 million in funding for school kitchen upgrades
- Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) benefits to keep 21 million kids nourished in the summer months
We are excited to see Congress recognizing the critical role of school meals in nourishing students. In particular, the proposed funding for food education and school kitchen equipment show that our advocacy over the years for such investments is making an impact—thanks to advocates like you! Special thanks to FoodCorps partners who have participated in virtual Hill meetings to share about their work connecting kids with healthy food.
But the fight is not over. While the child nutrition provisions of the bill have passed out of the House Education and Labor Committee, the larger bill needs to be stitched together and passed by both the House and Senate. The fate of the bill remains a little unclear as we write this update, with Congressional leaders facing several hurdles to get the bill over the finish line.
One thing we know for certain is that your elected officials need to hear from you! Congress must keep focus on this important legislation and resist the pressure to cut these important investments in our children. Now is the time to tell your members of Congress that children’s health must be their top priority. Urge your lawmakers to protect the critical investments that will support kids and families in the years to come.
USDA Responds to School Meals Supply Chain Challenges
As communities everywhere continue to recover from the pandemic, people and businesses around the world are facing major supply chain issues from delays to product shortages and price increases—and school food is no exception. In response, the USDA announced $1.5 billion in funding to states as well as some program flexibilities to help schools navigate the supply chain challenges.
While staff and food shortages are felt by many school districts across the country, some school nutrition programs with robust farm to school programming and scratch cooking already in place report fewer supply chain issues, which illustrates how farm to school contributes to creating a resilient food system.
In other USDA news, the following announcements came out of the department recently:
- A permanent increase in SNAP benefits by more than 25 percent through the modernized Thrifty Food Plan.
- A total of $700 million in funding for a new, easy-to-apply-for grant for small food businesses and farms who have incurred costs during the pandemic, which is a great opportunity to support regional supply chains that sell into schools.
- A call for nomination for a soon-to-be-established Equity Commission, which will advise the Secretary of Agriculture on barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities within the department.