A bill that helps feed 31 million children around the country will expire at the end of this month, and it’s unknown whether Congress will reauthorize it.
The Child Nutrition Act (CNA), which has to be reauthorized by Congress every five years, is set to expire on Sept. 30. Also known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the CNA provides free breakfasts and lunches to children in families with incomes below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. Those in families with incomes below 185 percent receive reduced-price meals.
Every day, the CNA provides more than 11 million free or reduced-priced breakfasts and over 20 million free or reduced-priced lunches, totaling more than five billion meals every school year.
The bill itself is not the problem, as it was originally a bipartisan program and remains popular in both parties on Capitol Hill today. Rather, the timing of the re-authorization proves difficult.
With a government shutdown looming, issues that are more controversial and high-stakes, such the Iran nuclear deal and Planned Parenthood, are overshadowing the CNA.
While most core programs, including the in-school meals, wouldn’t be affected if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the bill before its expiration date, smaller programs would be cut. This includes a program that gives schools that don’t participate in federal meal service milk reimbursements and a farm-to-school program that helps bring local food to schools.
Congress does have the option to extend the CNA even if it isn’t reauthorized, but doing so would prevent lawmakers from implementing a planned expansion of the summer meals program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is in charge of administering all programs dealing with school food service, has been considering making it easier for children to receive food when school isn’t in session.
Currently, only one-sixth of those who receive federally assisted breakfasts or lunches during the school year obtain meals during the summer, due to the fact that either they don’t know about the summer program or lack transportation to where the meals are being served.
Changes being considered by the USDA to lessen the burden on families during the summer include increasing the number of partner distributors or making serving locations mobile. A delay in re-authorization by Congress, however, wouldn’t allow these changes to be implemented for next summer and could possibly delay them for a lot longer.
If lawmakers resort to only extending the CNA, the changes to the summer meals program could be delayed for up to five years, the next time the bill requires re-authorization, leaving millions of children at risk for hunger and poor nutrition when school isn’t in session.