It has been very busy last month in Washington, D.C.; the president released a proposed 2021 budget, the USDA proposed changes to school meals, and senators introduced a food and nutrition educator bill. Let’s unpack some of the key policy actions that impact school food.
President’s 2021 budget proposes cuts to school meals, national service, and food assistance
Last week, President Donald Trump released his proposed budget for next fiscal year (from October 2020 through September 2021), titled “Budget for America’s Future.” The 2021 budget proposes big cuts to spending on domestic programs, including vital programs that support the health and well-being of families and communities across the country.
Fortunately, Congress ultimately decides which programs will be funded and at what level—and each year, it has wisely rejected, on a bipartisan basis, many of the similar harmful cuts proposed by the administration. However, the president’s stances on low-income communities, families, and children reflect a disturbing theme of leaving America’s most marginalized behind. And as we’ve seen over the past three years, the Trump administration could still pursue many of these harmful policy changes through executive actions and regulatory changes.
At FoodCorps, we are founded on the values of national service and lifting up our children for a more prosperous future for our nation. The administration’s attempts to erode these values will only deepen the lines of inequality that exist across education, health, and economic opportunity. FoodCorps calls on Congress to ensure funding and protection for these important programs.
Here’s how policies FoodCorps tracks show up the president’s 2021 budget:
- It eliminates AmeriCorps: For the fourth year in row, President Trump has called for eliminating the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps. FoodCorps is proud to be part of the AmeriCorps service community, tapping into a model of public-private partnership that leverages federal and philanthropic investment to harness the “people power” of national service. Thanks to your advocacy, Congress has wisely rejected the President’s last three attempts to eliminate vital programs that support communities across the country. Your legislators need to hear from you that they must prioritize national service funding. Join us in urging Congress to continue protecting and strengthening AmeriCorps.
- It takes billions of dollars away from school meals: The president’s budget calls for over $1.6 billion in cuts to school meals, partly through changes that would reduce the number of schools that can use the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a popular and effective way for schools with high populations of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals to serve breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost to the children. Hugely successful, CEP increases participation in school meals, reduces stigma because all kids are served at no cost, and cuts paperwork because schools no longer need to collect meal applications.
- It would increase hunger and harm the health of millions of families: The administration proposes further cuts to SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, on top of cuts from recently finalized and pending USDA rules. Taken together, these actions would take away access to nutrition assistance for millions of people and increase hunger for many low-income families and their children.
- It missed an opportunity to address the hidden infrastructure needs in school kitchens: The president called for an immediate focus on infrastructure in the form of border control. Rather than using infrastructure as an egregious act to keep families apart, President Trump missed an opportunity, with bipartisan support, to invest in infrastructure that can support families and improve our education system. For instance, many school cafeterias have remained the same since the launch of the National School Lunch Program nearly 75 years ago. An updated kitchen could help school nutrition staff serve healthy meals to more students every day.
USDA unveils proposed changes to school meals
Last month, the USDA proposed a set of changes to school meals. The public has an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal during the public comment period, and the agency is required to consider the feedback it receives before finalizing the rule. As we stated previously, FoodCorps opposes any changes that will undermine student health. The proposal includes some changes that could be positive, while others raise a number of questions. FoodCorps is currently gathering feedback from the school nutrition community to better understand the nuances of the proposed rule and impacts it has on the students’ health. In the coming weeks, we will release a more detailed response and a model comment you can use to weigh in on the proposals. Stay tuned!
Introducing the Food and Nutrition Education in Schools Act of 2020
We are excited to share that Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Food and Nutrition Education in Schools Act of 2020. This bill would establish a pilot program that gives schools an essential resource: educators who implement hands-on, evidence-based food and nutrition lessons in schools. These pilots will be evaluated to understand their impact on dietary practices, student performance and behavior, food consumption, changes in cafeterias, and other indicators as determined by USDA. If enacted, we hope this bill and the pilot program demonstrate the value of qualified food and nutrition educators in schools. Learn more about how this bill can help get more kids excited about healthy food.
House oversight hearing scrutinizes USDA proposal’s impacts on children’s wellbeing
Earlier this month, the House hosted a series of oversight hearings examining the Trump administration’s proposed policy changes and their negative impacts on children’s health and well-being. One of the proposals under scrutiny was a policy change the USDA proposed this summer that threatens to cut SNAP for more than 3 million Americans, jeopardizing access to free school meals for nearly a million children. FoodCorps strongly opposed this flawed proposal when it was published this summer, and during the public comment period, our community sent over 300 letters urging the Trump administration to rescind this proposed rule.
At the hearing, a Wisconsin elementary school principal and a West Virginia teacher, along with a representative from Share Our Strength, one of our partner organizations, testified against this proposal.They shared how taking automatic access to free school meals from families who are already struggling to make ends meet would harm students’ health and academic success.
“This proposal will do much harm and provide no help to the families that need it the most,” said Tega Toney, a teacher at Oak Hill High School in West Virginia. “Students learn best when they are not thinking about where their next meal will come from. Food security plays such a big role in student success.”
The administration received over 180,000 comments during the public comment period. It is required to review and consider the feedback before finalizing the proposal.
Watch the hearing to hear what anti-hunger advocates and members of the House oversight committee have to say about this proposal and its impacts on students.