CNR: The Year in Review

2016-10-11

As Congress breaks to allow lawmakers to return home for final campaign events, Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) remains an unchecked box on the legislative to-do list. It’s too early to tell whether a lame-duck Congress will finish the task after the election and before the end of 2016, or whether they will leave it for the new 115th Congress to take up in January. To help SNA members and other school nutrition advocates prepare to educate new and returning members about top priorities, SNA’s legislative team has compiled the following look back at what happened, what didn’t and SNA’s ongoing role.

As CNR efforts began to stall in October 2015, SNA leadership knew the time was right to organize a discussion among the White House, the Senate Agriculture Committee, USDA and SNA. It was both timely and productive for SNA to spearhead that meeting because we reached a compromise with all parties to improve the nutrition standards. The agreement preserves strong standards to benefit students while easing some regulatory mandates to alleviate unintended challenges facing school meal programs. The following compromise ultimately was rolled into the Senate’s Bill, S. 3136, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act.

Agreement Summary:

  • WHOLE GRAINS: Under current regulations, all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain rich, down to the croutons on the fresh salad bar. This agreement requires 80% of the grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich, allowing schools to offer occasional servings of enriched grains.
  • SODIUM: Under the agreement, schools gain two additional years to meet Target 2 limits, which will now take effect on July 1, 2019. Starting in 2019, a study will be conducted to determine whether scientific research supports the final sodium limits (effective July 1, 2022) and whether food companies are capable of preparing foods that meet those limits.
  • A LA CARTE: This agreement will establish a working group to examine the impact of a la carte restrictions and recommend to USDA a list of allowable nutrient-dense food exemptions for a la carte sale.
  • FRUIT AND VEGETABLE MANDATES: Under the agreement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA will establish new guidance, designed for local governments, confirming the safety of and encouraging the use of salad bars and sharing tables.

SNA continued to work with Senate staff and other stakeholders throughout December, providing input and recommendations as the bill was being drafted.

Typically, SNA’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee (PPL) would have gathered in Washington, D.C., in early December to draft SNA’s 2016 Position Paper. However, there was no CNR legislation completed to review, so PPL and SNA leadership postponed the meeting until the Senate introduced a CNR bill.

In January of 2016, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed their bill out of Committee. During the proceedings, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) applauded SNA’s leadership on our contributions to reaching the agreement.

With a Senate CNR bill to work with, the PPL Committee was able to meet in February to develop a solid 2016 Position Paper to share with members at the 2016 Legislative Action Conference in early March. LAC 2016 was a well-timed opportunity to bring in Key House and Senate staff to talk about their process with regard to CNR progress. SNA members were able to “Charge the Hill” armed with the 2016 Position Paper to share with legislators.

With a Senate CNR bill passed out of Committee, SNA turned its attention to the House Education and the Workforce Committee urging them to keep the momentum going and advance a reauthorization bill that included the Senate compromise on the nutrition standards and increased funding for school meals.

In April, the House Committee released a CNR discussion draft which included a 2 cent increase to the federal school breakfast reimbursement rate, as well as language to address challenges with the nutrition standards. SNA commented on the bill expressing support for the proposed funding increase, reiterating our support for the Senate agreement on the nutrition standards and expressing opposition to proposed changes to the Community Eligibility Provision.

On May 18, with little notice, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved the CNR bill, H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition & Education Act of 2016,” after passing a substitute amendment to establish a three-state block grant pilot. SNA was the first organization to speak out against the block grant proposal. Within hours, SNA took the following actions:

  • Contacted key committee staff to express SNA’s strong opposition to the proposal.
  • Issued a press release which was picked up by all key Capitol Hill publications. The release was sent to all agriculture and education staffers for ALL House and Senate offices.
  • Mobilized a Block Grant Opposition Task Force which included state agency members, the PPL Committee, Industry partners, the SNA Executive Committee and Headquarters staff.
  • Created an Action Alert that members used to contact their representatives in opposition to the proposal. To date, nearly 16,000 Action Alerts have been sent.
  • Developed a fact sheet and an FAQ document detailing the threat posed by block grants.

In June, SNA continued with efforts to oppose the House bill by holding a press conference on Capitol Hill highlighting the negative impact block grants have on school meal programs. The press conference was hosted by SNA, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Food Research & Action Center. Remarks were given by SNA leadership, Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott, (D-VA), Ranking Member on the House Education Committee, and Congresswomen Suzanne Bonanmici, (D-OR) and Alma Adams, (D-NC). In addition, SNA co-hosted a webinar on block grants with the Child Nutrition Forum, cosponsored and participated in a Capitol Hill rally attended by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and held a day-long meeting with SNA Block Grant Task Force to review opposition strategy.

At ANC 2016 in San Antonio, SNA learned from Senate staff that a unique procedural tool known as “hot lining” was going to be used to get a Senate bill passed quickly. The process only works if every Member of the Senate agrees, and unfortunately the attempt failed.

As Members of Congress left Washington for the District work period in August, SNA continued efforts to stop the block grant proposal contained in the House CNR bill through its members in the states. SNA urged our members to arrange cafeteria visits and meet with their lawmakers in their home offices to voice concerns on block grants.

Upon the return of Congress on September 6, Senate staff again reached out to SNA indicating there would be another attempt to “hot line” the Senate CNR bill before Congress adjourned for the election. However, both the Senate and the House were struggling to come up with an agreement to fund the federal government past the October 1 deadline, and Members of Congress were eager to return home to campaign. Congress adjourned September 29, immediately following approval of a short-term spending bill to fund the federal government through December 9, averting a shutdown and leaving before the Senate could vote on Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

Where does this leave CNR? The next opportunity for any kind of action will be when Congress returns for a lame duck session after the election. It remains to be seen if there will be an appetite to address CNR at this time. Given that the Senate bill is significantly different than the House bill, it is unlikely that a compromise can be hammered out during the lame duck session when Congress will be focused on passing a budget for Fiscal Year 2017. If a compromise is not passed during the lame duck, the CNR process will begin again from scratch with a new Congress in 2017.

SNA will carefully evaluate the post-election lay of the land – new Administration, new players at USDA and in the House and Senate. What will SNA’s committees of jurisdiction look like? With all the uncertainties that lie ahead, SNA will continue to be a strong leading force, advocating to protect child nutrition programs and our members’ interests.

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