This afternoon the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act by a final vote of 264-157, mainly on party lines. The bill will now be sent to the White House, and President Obama has indicated he will sign it.
NSBA has many concerns about the financial and operational impact of this legislation, known as the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” (S. 3307).
“Despite the good intentions to improve child nutrition, it is disappointing that the U.S. House of Representatives would pass such an important bill without providing adequate funding for local school districts to comply with the new requirements,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “This will just add a new burden for schools to pay for another unfunded mandate at a time when there are critical budget shortfalls. It is imperative that the Obama administration, once this bill is signed into law, work closely with school district representatives to implement S. 3307 to mitigate the negative consequences for students and schools.”
The bill seeks to increase the nutritional content of foods sold not only in school cafeterias but also vending machines and other school venues but also increase the number of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches. The measure also would set new standards and would require new training for school food service workers.
One of NSBA’s major concerns is that the federal reimbursement for school meals is inadequate for most districts to cover the full cost of providing them. The U. S. Department of Agriculture reports the full cost of providing free lunches exceeds the federal reimbursement currently by more than thirty cents per meal. While S. 3307 authorizes a six-cent increase per school lunch for districts that voluntarily adopt updated federal standards for school meals, NSBA estimates the actual increased cost of compliance ranges from about 11 to 25 cents per meal, thus increasing the reimbursement gap that already exists. Therefore, a school district serving subsidized lunches to 5,000 students has a potential shortfall of $270,000 under the current reimbursement rate. With the increase from S. 3307, an additional $54,000 could be added to a district’s shortfall.
During a preliminary debate on the bill on Dec. 1, several members of the House cited NSBA’s concerns, which were outlined in a letter sent to members on Nov. 30.
The final approval of S. 3307 came after a series of procedural votes that included a motion to send the bill back to the Education and Labor Committee. NSBA issued a statement in support of that action “as a means to enable the Congress to give more thorough review of the entire bill and to address several objections NSBA has” to the legislation, which was referred to during debate by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), incoming chair of the House Education & Labor Committee for the 112th Congress. However, those efforts failed.