Speaker 1 00:00:18 Well, just to bite listeners, this is j I just got back from our nation's capital and I have some thoughts strap in for a rundown of what could be ahead for the lame duck congressional session and what we are urging Congress to take up in the end of year spending bill to reduce hunger and hardship.
Speaker 1 00:00:44 All right, let's start by hopping onto our time machine. All the way back to 2010, the last time a Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act was passed. So that bill, it was called the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, included some of the most significant changes to child nutrition programs probably since the 1970s. The Child Nutrition Act authorizes Federal Child Nutrition programs. So that includes the National School Luncheon School Breakfast programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or C A C F P, which provides before and after school, meals and snacks, the summer food service program or S F S P, which provides meals and snacks during the out of school time, summer break, and wic, the special supplemental Nutrition program for women, infants and children. So all of those programs traditionally get revisited about once every five years in a single spending package, also known as an omnibus bill.
Speaker 1 00:01:52 Ugh. But unfortunately to the great hardship of families and kids and the providers of course, that not only, you know, care for and educate them, but feed them. Uh, we have not had a Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act past since 2010. So you're probably thinking, um, well, my kid or the kid down the block gets free school meals. I know that kids in my community that attend the daycare where I work receive meals through C A C F P. The list goes on. So what are you talking about? What do you mean we haven't passed a bill since 2010? How are we funding these programs? Fortunately, many of the programs in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act are permanently authorized, um, to kind of operate at a status quo. So what has become now habit, um, is to just kind of pass the buck and continue to kick the can down the road on kind of revisiting how those programs are as actually working for kids and families and providers and schools, et cetera.
Speaker 1 00:03:05 And just kind of continuing along the status quo on those programs. Um, keeping eligibility levels where they are keeping all of the sort of way that, you know, eligibility and participation is determined as it made sense to operate in 2010. And y'all might be aware that over the past 12 years, uh, you know, we've had some things become a little bit more accessible, like say wide use of high speed internet access. Um, um, things have changed a little bit in 12 years. So, you know, that can be something that's really frustrating. And obviously our communities change and evolve and the needs of our kids and families change and evolve, and we learn more about how to do things efficiently and effectively. So it can be really, really frustrating. Um, definitely for providers and schools who know, oh, if we could just make this streamline to, to this program, if we could just change this eligibility level, we could serve more kids, we could do it better, we could do it more effectively, more affordably, you know, we could stay solvent so that we're able to sustain our program that meets the nutritional needs of of our kids.
Speaker 1 00:04:24 Um, so yeah, I mean, we're looking, we're staring down what could be another missed opportunity to finally pass a new Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act that would do a lot of the things that we have that we have known for a long time should be done. We almost passed a bill back in 2015, and then, you know, politics got in the way. And, um, you know, that's unfortunate. We don't want kids and their nutritional needs to get caught up in politics. So, you know, let's focus on what's ahead of us, what can be done. Um, really what's important to understand is that during the pandemic especially, we were able to really test out in real time and we had to test out very quickly in real time how to feed kids more flexibly, how to help providers stay solvent, how to help them be innovative so that they could get the food to where the kids are and that they could do it in a way that kept them from going under.
Speaker 1 00:05:31 You know, because these are not programs that are raking in profits. They are either barely making ends meet or operating in a deficit and having to fundraise and find other sources to make up the difference. Um, so, you know, think about when all the, we've talked about this before, of course, and many of you know this, but just to reemphasize, when all of the schools shut down to keep kids and families and vulnerable people safe from the spread of this new coronavirus that we were all learning about, the very first thing us in the Hunger Relief community were reckoning with was how are these meals gonna get to these kids? Because so many of our students count on free reduced price school meals every day, breakfast and lunch, some of them, you know, that are in before and after school care count on breakfast or snacks or other meals in those spaces.
Speaker 1 00:06:28 Um, when they're out of school during the summer, normally we have providers that open their doors to allow them to come and, and get together for some educational and recreational programming while they're out of school, as well as get those nutritious, wholesome meals that they're normally counting on during the school year. And we had to work across every sector of the private and public world to figure out how to break down red tape and break down barriers to making sure kids stayed fed. Um, and throughout that process, many temporary waivers, flexibilities, improvements to eligibility, reimbursement levels, all kinds of good stuff was enacted congressionally. And, um, you know, Congress gave U S D A also the authority to do some of that through their, their federal Administrative waiver authority to make the programs work better for kids during that crisis. And here are just some of the examples, um, on, on wic, Congress took up and, and, uh, did some things to boost WIC benefits during the pandemic to make that, um, benefit, especially the fruit and vegetable, um, food package, the fruit and vegetable bonus that comes along with the WIC food package.
Speaker 1 00:07:53 Um, you know, they've introduced some things to encourage states to modernize the program, and Ohio has a long way to go there, but there's some, you know, some real will and recognition that more needs to be done to make WIC services accessible. Um, you know, we were just talking in our meeting this week with advocates from across the country working on hunger relief programs, talking about how I think it's just a little over half of eligible, um, women caregivers and, and kids across the country are participating in wic. So we need to take a serious look at that. Um, and c gave us a chance to start peeling back the layers on what is working and what's not working on wic. We had absolutely critical flexibility on school and summer meal programs. Um, so in during the summer, we've had long had a requirement in our child nutrition programs that kids in the summer have to physically come together and congregate, as we call congregate feeding.
Speaker 1 00:09:04 They have to consume their breakfast, their lunch, whatever it may be, onsite under the supervision of a program provider. Um, and you know, that works for some kids that are attending, you know, summer camps that are in daycare that are getting enrichment during the summer. But for others who don't have transportation, who live in rural communities or who live in communities that aren't safe and walkable, um, you know, who are maybe, maybe they're young teenagers who are at home kind of caring for younger siblings during the summer, um, so their parents can continue to go to work, whatever that household looks like, it's not palatable for them to, for their parents, their care caregivers or the kids themselves to figure out how to get in a car and drive, you know, in the case of rural Appalachian counties, 20, 25 miles each way, maybe across the county line to get to a summer meal provider to sit down and, and eat a lunch and go back home each day.
Speaker 1 00:10:09 So that's been something that's long, um, frustrated hunger relief providers, because we know that's not adequately meeting kids needs. And we also know that the way the Summer Food Service program is currently authorized under the last, you know, that Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act from 2010, that, um, the eligibility for communities to offer free summer meals to kids in their area, that that itself is not widespread. So communities have to currently have half of, um, half of their children determined to be, um, in the school meals program, um, eligible for free or reduced price meals in order for, um, them to qualify to provide a summer program to kids in their area. So again, half of the community at large has to be ha half of the kids in the community at large have to be poor for providers in that area for a daycare, for a school, for a library, for a food bank, whoever it might be, to offer summer meals at all, um, in an open, welcoming way to their community.
Speaker 1 00:11:27 So we would like to see that eligibility level dropped, um, and, you know, that would allow more providers to serve their communities consistently. Those that are on the bubble are always kind of waiting to see, is this gonna be the year when we can keep our sites open or not? It just doesn't, it just doesn't work. Um, and then what another thing we've been able to test during C is the what, what during Covid has been the pandemic E B T program. So before COVID 19, there have been some pilot programs on summer E B T, very, very minimal ones, but E B T stands for electronic Benefits transfer. And essentially this is a, you know, a benefit on cards. It allows, similar to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program or snap, it allows kids and their caregivers to go and purchase groceries, um, to replace the meals that they're missing out on because school is closed, right?
Speaker 1 00:12:28 So it empowers them to, to make those meals more accessible and available and readily available in their homes, um, so that they can choose what, what their family and their kids prefer, you know, what, what items are missing from what else they're able to bring in from other sources, what else they're able to afford from other means. And the pandemic E B T program has been a complete godsend for so many families and kids throughout Ohio and throughout the country. And Ohio has really, um, stepped up and shown how we can figure this out. The state agencies and the local schools and all the various stakeholders that are involved in making this work and determining eligibility for kids and making sure that their benefits are issued in a seamless way. We've done it really well here in Ohio. We've shown how it can be done and now we have the infrastructure and the knowledge build across state agencies to keep doing it.
Speaker 1 00:13:29 And so that's something that's really key is getting a summer E b T benefit, um, so that kids can make sure to have, we can make sure that kids have the food they need at home when they're out of school. So those are just a few of the things that, you know, have been tested and demonstrated during covid 19 that we could make permanent in, in child Nutrition reauthorization. So let me just talk through now how this works. Um, in practice, child Nutrition reauthorization is under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee in the Senate, but over in the House it's under the jurisdiction of the Education and Labor Committee. And actually the House and Labor Committee passed its Healthy Meals Healthy Kids Act, um, earlier this year, there are some really good things that we support in that legislation. Um, some of the things that are in the legislation are ones that I just talked about.
Speaker 1 00:14:25 Another thing it would do is it would lower the eligibility threshold for free school meals, which would allow that, that basically allows schools to offer all the students in their building free school meals, um, and at greater rates. This would allow more districts to do that, which we know is super important because there is so much stigma going on. Uh, so much lunch shaming going on for kids that can't afford their meals. And sometimes with that eligibility limit set so low for free school meals at 130% of federal poverty. Um, there are kids on the border who have, you know, limited incomes at home and they're really struggling to access those meals. That's a big deal. Um, and something that I think is really popular among kids and families. And many of the other measures that I already talked about are included in the bill that was passed by the House Committee that has jurisdiction over Child nutrition reauthorization.
Speaker 1 00:15:20 So that means that it's up to the Senate, it's the Senate's job. Now, to get this across the finish line, we have one more shot for the Senate to take up these provisions before the end of the session, this calendar year. So why is it that this is our last shot? Well, one major reason is that in 2023, we know that we will have a Farm bill moving and you know, that we'll be spending much more time together on just a bite talking about how a Farm Bill gets authorized in the process there and how we as food banks are involved in that. But the Farm Bill also, like CNR, is usually revisited every five years in a single spending package. It is a big deal. It is often politically contentious. It's, it's a lot of work. It's a big undertaking. And you know, the same committee in the Senate that oversees the Farm Bill also has jurisdiction over child nutrition reauthorization.
Speaker 1 00:16:15 So just politically, it's gonna be really difficult to move a farm bill the same year as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. It's also just frankly, too much work for those committees to take on. These are big bills and a lot of work to be done. And then the year after that of course is a major election year and we don't see child nutrition reauthorization moving forward during an election year. Um, it's really difficult to just bring everyone together on that when, again, when politics are involved, here's what we know. We have a bill that's already been passed out of the relevant committee in the house. It has great provisions included in it that make sense for kids and families that are investments in their nutrition in their future. That just make sense. And we know that the Senate now has a shot to take those up right now, include them in an end of year spending package, get a Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act done while we still have this last chance to do it so that we can say to kids and families, we're not forgetting about you, we're not losing sight of your needs.
Speaker 1 00:17:23 We're not gonna just continue to let the status quo go without addressing what needs to be done to modernize these programs, to streamline how we operate them and to make sure that your needs are being met. Okay, so what can you do? I know there's a lot of priorities. Now there are other things we really care about moving in this end of year spending package as well, of course the most important of which is the child tax credit. But right now I'm focusing on urging you, you to contact, whether you are in Ohio or anywhere else across the country, contact your senators, especially if you have a senator on the agriculture committee. Um, urge them, urge them to get this done. So in Ohio especially, give a call over to Senator Brown's office and let him know what a priority this is for you to move this across the finish line.
Speaker 1 00:18:13 Pick up the phone and call, talk about this. You know, if you are someone who relied on one of these programs when you were growing up, or if you are relying on these programs now for your kids, or there are kids in your lives, in your communities that rely on these programs, which I know there are, speak up on their behalf, the kids can't speak for themselves. So let's get this done. Okay, it's great to talk with all of you. It's great to be back in Ohio and let's keep working together to get, get more done for Hungry Ohioans.
Speaker 1 00:18:49 So in closing, in case you need a reminder about why this action is urgent and why we need to do more to address childhood hunger, a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed other research. We've seen that after the monthly advanced child tax credits ended early this year, food insecurity increased by nearly 25%. And of course, that increase impacted black, Hispanic, and indigenous families the most. This is just completely unacceptable. Families were able to feed their kids, put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, maybe get a little bit ahead, pay down some of that credit card debt, put some money away in a college savings account, and all of that autonomy, all of that empowerment has been stripped away. We need the child tax credit expansion to be made, permanent policy, and we need strong, robust, modernized child nutrition programs as well. Thanks for joining us. We'll talk to you next time.