Houston Food Bank Asks Congress to Oppose Child Nutrition Bill H.R. 5003

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Child, education, and nutrition advocates have little to like in the committee passed legislation to reauthorize federal child nutrition programs. With almost no chance of this bill passing, the Houston Food Bank would like them to start over and try again. Unlike years past, this bill focuses on politics instead of a bipartisan effort to feed hungry children, and congress must do better.

In letters to southeast congressional members, we have expressed our concern of the bill’s troubling contents. Major offenses include cutting away more than 7,000 schools from the community eligibility program, which gives all students in high-poverty schools free breakfast and lunch. Currently, this valuable safety net catches students of the working poor who may not qualify for other federal social services. The proposed bill also allows a further delay in nutrition standards, putting students’ health at risk out of convenience. The most potentially dangerous change in this bill is an authorization to initiate a three state block grant pilot. A state block grant will allow school nutrition programs to run with no federal oversight. In the past, federal programs that transfer to block grants dismantle within years. Providing healthy, nutritious, and timely food for our children is not a political experiment worth investigating.

The Houston Food Bank is concerned with smaller nuances that could be easily overlooked but will result in large impacts to low-income children. For example, the House version of the reauthorization halts WIC programs for children when they turn five years old. Many children do not begin school until their sixth birthday, leaving a yearlong gap when nutrition, critical for healthy development, should be of the utmost priority. 

Another particular concern is the word “Fresh” struck from the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program within the bill. Currently the program provides fresh produce as snacks to targeted elementary schools at no cost to the school or students. Of the 44 Houston area schools participating in the program, 30 are located directly in food deserts, or areas where healthy food providers are unavailable, and the rest are within a mile of a food desert. This innovative program exposes young children to fresh healthy snacks that they may not have in their day-to-day life. If we want our kids to eat healthier as adults, we must make good choices available to them when they are young.  According to the Food Nutrition Service catalogue available choices could now include peach slices packed in syrup, canned mandarin oranges, and previously frozen melon balls, again, in syrup.

With such a polarizing bill, the chances of this bill passing the House floor are slim. We urge our congresspersons to start today and redo this bill from scratch with the historical spirit of bipartisan support for our nation’s future citizens.

The Houston Food Bank is the largest food bank in the nation serving 18 counties and distributing 74 million nutritious meals a year. We are one of over 750 organizations that oppose H.R. 5003 the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. Please contact your member of Congress and let them know children need to come before politics. Ask them to vote “No” when H.R. 5003 reaches the House Floor. Click here to see the letter we sent to our 11 Congressional members and please visit our advocacy webpage and scroll down to find out how to reach your member of Congress.

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