Every school day, 30 million children depend on school nutrition programs to nourish their bodies and minds. School nutrition programs are expected to operate as businesses, without relying on school district funds. However, these historically under-funded programs are struggling to manage increased food and operating costs, heightened by recent regulatory mandates. As a result, the financial sustainability of these programs is threatened, to the detriment of the students, school districts and communities they serve.
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) represents 56,000 professionals committed to serving students nutritious meals while being responsible stewards of federal funds. SNA urges Congress to help restore the fiscal solvency of school nutrition programs and streamline requirements to ease administrative burdens on schools and families. SNA requests that Congress:
Child Nutrition Reauthorization
Swiftly pass a robust Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, including the Senate agreement on school meal standards, so school nutrition programs can responsibly plan for the upcoming school year.
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) worked collaboratively with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the White House and the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry to reach an agreement to improve nutrition standards for school meals. The agreement preserves strong nutrition standards and provides school meal programs flexibility to plan healthy menus that appeal to students.
This agreement was included in the bipartisan US Senate Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016.
School nutrition professionals are already planning for the upcoming school year. By enacting this agreement, Congress will help ease operational challenges for school nutrition programs and ensure more students come back to the cafeteria to enjoy healthy school meals.
Click here for details on the school nutrition standards agreement.
Increase the per-meal reimbursement for school breakfast and lunch by 35 cents to ensure School Food Authorities (SFAs) can afford to meet federal requirements.
Since passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, new regulations and rising food and labor expenses have drastically increased the cost of preparing school meals. Historically under-funded school meal programs have shouldered this financial burden. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated updated nutrition standards will cost school districts more than $3 billion in additional food and labor costs by the end of Fiscal Year 2016 (Source: USDA’s Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs; Final Rule).
These costs threaten the financial solvency of meal programs and limit their ability to invest in further menu improvements to benefit students. Nearly eight in every ten school districts have already taken steps to offset financial losses in their meal programs, according to a recent SNA survey. School meal programs have reduced staff, cut into reserve funds, deferred equipment investments and limited menu choices.
School meal programs are working to increase scratch-prepared offerings and recipes using fresh, whole ingredients, but they are losing the necessary resources to achieve these goals. It’s time for Congress to invest in healthy school meals for students. To preserve the sustainability of school nutrition programs, Congress must increase the federal reimbursement rates for school breakfast and school lunch.
Prior to implementation of any new legislation and regulations, Congress should provide full funding to cover all related costs identified through economic analysis.
Provide 10 cents per breakfast in USDA Foods to support the School Breakfast Program. Currently, SFAs only receive commodity support for school lunch.
With 1 in 5 children living in food insecure households, the School Breakfast Program is critical to ensuring students receive the nutrition they need to succeed at school. Research shows students who eat school breakfast perform better on standardized tests, and have improved classroom behavior and attendance.
USDA estimated the updated nutrition standards would add 27 cents to the cost of preparing every school breakfast, but Congress provided no additional funds to help schools offset these costs (Source: USDA’s Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs; Final Rule).
Currently, schools receive USDA Foods support for school lunch, but there is no commodity support for school breakfast. Providing USDA Foods for breakfast will help offset the increased cost of meeting new breakfast requirements, assist schools in improving menus and support America’s agricultural producers.
Provide $1 million for an independent study of federal reporting requirements for Child Nutrition Programs in an effort to develop a more efficient, unified and consolidated reporting system.
Through the years, changes in Child Nutrition laws and regulations have resulted in multiple layers of reporting requirements for school meal programs. Many of the mandated reports have overlapping data requirements and arbitrary submission deadlines.
Duplicative and overly burdensome administrative mandates make inefficient use of school nutrition directors’ time – keeping them at their desks instead of in cafeterias, interacting with students and staff. This time could be better utilized for program improvements, such as hosting student taste tests, planning nutrition education initiatives and improving cafeteria operations.
Pursuing a unified and consolidated reporting system would minimize burdens on State Agencies and School Food Authorities (SFAs), allowing school nutrition professionals to focus on their mission of serving students.
Unpaid Meal Changes
Compel USDA to complete its report and implement regulations that effectively address debt arising from unpaid meal charges.
Unpaid meal charges by students continue to increase, and school nutrition programs are unable to absorb these costs. In 2010, Congress instructed USDA to report on this issue and gave USDA the authority to implement regulations to address the problem of unpaid meal charges, per Section 143 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (P.L. 111-296).
School nutrition professionals are committed to ensuring students have access to healthy school meals and work diligently to enroll as many eligible students as possible in the free or reduced price meal program.
Unfortunately, many schools have experienced an increase in the number of non-enrolled children who arrive in the cafeteria without money to pay for their school breakfast or lunch. Currently, schools must determine if these students can “charge” their meals or receive an alternate meal, such as a cheese sandwich and milk.
Since school meal programs receive no federal reimbursement for alternate or charged meals, some districts have accumulated substantial unpaid meal debts that can impact the quality of the program for all students.
In 2010 as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (P.L. 111-296), Congress instructed USDA to address the problem of unpaid meal charges. Section 143 required USDA to examine current policies and practices regarding meal charges and alternate meals and report on the feasibility of establishing national standards. The law also instructed USDA to consider testing and implementing the standards.
USDA has failed to report on this issue. Congress should compel USDA to complete this work and implement standards that address unpaid meal debt.