It already has been more than a year since the bipartisan Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act expired, and there was hope that an agreement could be reached on how to balance the more bipartisan approach championed in the Senate or the House’s version.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry held a hearing in May 2015 and unanimously approved the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity & Access Act of 2016 in January. The House had approved its measure earlier this spring as well. However, it looks like politics will prevent the bill from crossing the finish line before Congress adjourns for the year.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said he is disappointed that the bipartisan, bicameral Children Nutrition Reauthorization negotiations have come to an end. Roberts blamed partisan politics.
“Though our committee passed a good, bipartisan bill – something no one said we could do – it wasn’t enough for some,” Roberts said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “I’m proud to say the agriculture committee conducted this reauthorization process in an open and transparent manner that listened to all stakeholders, including school children. We wrote a well-balanced bill that increased program integrity, flexibility, efficiency and effectiveness.”
Since that bill was passed by the committee, Roberts said members had been working to find an agreement with colleagues in the House and the minority members of the Senate who halted the bill’s progress.
“In the end, we were not able to reach a bipartisan, bicameral compromise,” Roberts said. “It is unfortunate that certain parochial interests and the desire for issues rather than solutions were put ahead of the well-being of vulnerable and at-risk populations and the need for reform.”
Roberts said it is a “lost opportunity to help children and struggling schools.” He added that these programs will be vulnerable without a reduction in the current error rates.
He said he remains committed to continuing to look for ways to increase integrity within the program and to provide flexibility to local schools and summer meal program operators.
The House’s version established a block grant pilot project in three states that will cut funds for school meal programs and nullify crucial federal mandates, including student eligibility rules for free and reduced-price meals and nutrition standards.
“Although the House bill provides a much appreciated and necessary increase to federal reimbursements for school breakfast, portions of the bill will cause irreparable harm to federal school meal programs,” School Nutrition Assn. president Jean Ronnei said.