Congressional Homework: Nutrition and Our Nation’s School Children
By Becky Volk
Social Media Specialist, Tarrant Area Food Bank
State of Child Hunger
Of all the people served by Tarrant Area Food Bank’s (TAFB) network of more than 300 Partner Agencies, 35 percent are children. According to Feeding Texas, 1.6 million low-income children across the state ate breakfast at school in 2015. In other words, 1.6 million Texas children relied on meals provided at schools to start their day—and their education—off right.
The relationship between eating nutritious food and the increased ability for young minds to learn is not a new discovery. Scientific studies have linked the benefits of proper nutrition in children and better performance in school for decades. In fact, this direct correlation was the basis for the creation of the Child Nutrition Act in 1966.
Since then, food banks across the country have kept a close eye on the status of this piece of legislation every time it has come up for renewal. Once it has passed in both the House and Senate, the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act will require participation from multiple organizations and federal and state departments to be carried out successfully.
Child Nutrition Act Background
The Child Nutrition Act was enacted following the successful implementation of the National School Lunch Program. As a result, government-funded child food programs were put under the direction of the USDA. More specifically, under the Child Nutrition Act, the Secretary of Agriculture was given the responsibility of maintaining uniform standards in regard to child nutrition, financial management, supervision and more. The expectation was that, under the wing of the secretary, the authorization could be expanded and strengthened over time.
The Special Milk Program (1954) is one example of a program that was extended under the Child Nutrition Act. A pilot breakfast program providing low-income school-age children access to breakfast was also initiated under the act. Over the years, additional bills were developed and categorized under the act in efforts to safeguard and measure the health and nutrition of our nation’s children.
Most recently, the Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act of 2015 was introduced as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. This piece of legislation focuses efforts on providing meals to children who otherwise would not have access to regular nutritious meals during summer break from school.
The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act of 2015 introduces new channels for helping children access nutritious foods. Currently, children are required to remain at the meal site to eat their meal. However, if the site were to close due to inclement weather, children depending on that meal would not be served. To help alleviate that, the act will give children the opportunity to pick up their meals and take them home. The act will also provide eligible families living in areas without access to a summer meal site with an EBT card to purchase nutritious food for their children.
The Child Nutrition Act plays an important role of assisting food banks across the country, including TAFB, in providing food to children at risk of hunger. Child food programs that reach directly into communities, like the Farmers Market Nutrition Program at WIC clinics, work with the USDA and state agriculture departments to provide fresh produce to women and their children.
The Child Nutrition Act is up for renewal every five years. One thing that sets this piece of legislation apart from others is that it is reauthorized and updated due to bipartisan efforts. Last January, Feeding America reported that the act was passed by the Senate Agricultural Committee.
However, the work of securing aid that assures children get access to nutritious food, spring, summer, fall and winter is not complete. The act with its many food programs that fall under it still needs to be passed by the full Senate and House. For up-to-date information on the status of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, visit the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) website.