Accessing Healthy School Meals Should be a Right – Not a Privilege

More than 70 years ago, Congress recognized that feeding hungry children was not only a moral imperative, but also a federal responsibility, vital to the health and security of our nation. This month marks the six-year anniversary of President Obama signing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), the most recent reauthorization of federal school meal and child nutrition programs. The HHFKA not only upholds the original intent of the National School Lunch Act, but expanded upon it.

Innumerable studies have shown that healthier school meals have a positive impact on students’ academic performance, behavioral outcomes, and long-term health. Although not commonly thought of as a civil rights issue, in many ways, child nutrition programs are just that because they aim to ensure every child is given the opportunity to access an equal education. Healthy foods that fuel students' bodies and minds are essential to that education. The HHFKA was enacted to ensure all of our nation’s children have access to healthy food while they are in school and it has worked to educate children about making healthy food choices.

Congress is past due for a reauthorization of the child nutrition programs, and we know many aspects of the HHFKA were very successful. Data from 2015 showed the lowest figures on record for children that are food insecure, which is very welcome news. Yet despite these great gains, too many children still aren’t getting the food they need. We must build on the progress of the HHFKA for America’s families to ensure no child goes hungry.

Earlier this year, Committee Republicans put forward a child nutrition reauthorization bill that contained many harmful provisions and would have made it more difficult for low-income schools to feed their students. The Republican-backed bill would have rolled back the evidence-based nutrition standards put in place under the HHFKA. It would have also eroded the Community Eligibility Provision which currently provides free, nutritious meals to 8.5 million low-income children in 18,000 schools and eliminates burdensome application requirements for districts, schools, and families. Thankfully, this harmful bill did not move beyond the Committee. As we observe the anniversary of the HHFKA and we look forward to a new Administration and a new Congress, Committee Democrats reaffirm their commitment to a child nutrition reauthorization that will improve access to healthy foods in schools and other settings, and maintain robust nutrition standards in federal nutrition programs.