June 08, 2015

As Congress Debates Child Nutrition Standards, Senator Gillibrand Pushes For Fresh Fruits And Vegetables At School & Announces Legislation To Provide More Students With Nutritious Meals When School Is Out For Summer

Debate Underway On Landmark Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Renewal & Some Are Trying to Water Down Nutrition Programs & Standards Gillibrand to Protect Healthier Meal Requirements; Introduces Bipartisan Legislation To Provide More Children With Access To Quality, Nutritious Food Throughout The Summer In Erie County Only 11,112 Kids Ate Lunch Daily In The Summer While 76,262 Ate Free or Reduced Lunch Daily During The School Year

Buffalo, NY – Standing at Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Children’s Academy U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said she will fight to protect healthier food standards and programs for schools as Congress prepares to debate child nutrition standards. Gillibrand also announced bipartisan legislation to provide more children with nutritious meals throughout the summer.

Gillibrand’s proposed legislation would give more children access to healthy summer meals by expanding the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program. The legislation would help improve nutrition and enhance learning in underserved areas by better integrating summer education and meals programs, making it easier for public-private partner organizations to participate in the summer meals program, and by providing the option of a third meal for children who attend evening enrichment programs.

“For many children the only meals they eat are provided at school, and that means some children go hungry over summer break,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “This bipartisan legislation would give more children access to quality meals when school is out for the summer by strengthening the USDA summer nutrition program. No child should have to go without a healthy meal.”

Congress is currently debating child nutrition standards and school meals as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) is set to expire in September that were a landmark achievement for improving what cafeterias serve children. Under the law, in order for school meals to be eligible for federal reimbursement, one of the main requirements is that they must contain at least ½ cup serving of fresh fruit and vegetables. The authorization for USDA’s core child nutrition programs: the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program is also set to expire in September and must be renewed this year. Gillibrand is also pushing to expand purchases from local food producers, particularly fresh fruit and vegetable growers and suppliers, to provide nutritious school meals and also raise students’ awareness of local agriculture.

“As we debate child nutrition standards, we need to make serving healthy food at our schools is a priority,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Fresh fruits’ and vegetables’ place on the lunch tray should not be replaced with French fries and onion rings. Parents should be able to rely on school as a place where their kids get served a healthy meal. By preserving nutrition programs and standards at school, we are not only ensuring our kids are eating nutritious food, we are also expanding opportunities for our local farmers.” 

"Our administration continues to focus on the importance of quality of life issues in the City of Buffalo and improving the way our children eat is vitally important to strengthening their quality of life and their ability to get a quality education,” said City of Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. “I thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on this issue."

“Buffalo Promise Neighborhood is a strong advocate in promoting the connection between proper nutrition and academic achievement for students attending our three schools: Westminster Community Charter School, Highgate Heights Elementary and the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Children’s Academy, operated by the CAO,” said David Chamberlain, Senior Vice President of M&T Bank and Chief Executive Officer of Buffalo Promise Neighborhood. We’re advancing a number of healthy initiatives like, increasing access to fresh food to students through the vegetable gardens planted at Westminster Community Charter School and equipment upgrades, we were able to provide students, as past recipients of the PEP grant to enhance their physical education.”

"I believe that eating well should have no economic barriers,” said MaryRuth Rera, Executive Chef of Westminster Community Charter School. “I believe that eating well should be a given right and not a privilege. We need more gardens and more fresh food.  And we need more people committed to preparing what our gardens provide for school cafeterias everywhere. If we all made eating well a priority, we would finally see meaningful change in the health and well-being of our students and families everywhere."

Across the country, 31 million students participate in the national school lunch program, and 22 million students receive free or reduced school lunch – meaning their families lives at or near the poverty line – but only one in seven of these high need children have access to summer meals. In New York, there are more than 1.7 million children who receive free or reduced school lunch, but only 27 percent have access to summer meals.

On a typical school day, there were over 124,968 students in Western New York who ate a free or reduced priced school lunch, but over the summer only 14,488 children participated in the summer lunch program. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to at least an additional 11,883 students attending more than 52 schools in the region. In Erie County there were 76,262 students receiving lunch but only 11,112 children participating in the summer lunch program. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to at least an additional 4,811 students attending 20 schools in Erie County.

The Summer Meals Act:

The Summer Meals Act would help more children access healthy food by lowering the threshold to allow areas with 40 percent or more of students receiving free or reduced lunch to be eligible for the program, rather than the current threshold of 50 percent. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would expand eligibility to 3.2 million children.

This legislation would also reduce the paperwork burden for meal program sponsors who want to participate in the program, provide children with transportation to the summer meals sites, and would also offer the option of an additional meal to children who attend evening programs.

The USDA Summer Food Service Program provides low-income children under age 18, who would normally receive free or reduced school lunch, with quality, nutritious food during the summer. Several programs run in tandem with educational enrichment programs to keep children engaged and safe during the summer months. Currently, there are more than 50 national organizations that have endorsed the Summer Meals Act legislation.

Child Nutrition Standards Set To Expire

The most recent Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) process concluded when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) was signed into law on December 13, 2010. The HHFKA made substantial improvements to Child Nutrition by:

  • Increasing reimbursement rates paid for school meals by $0.06.
  • Updating school nutrition standards and standards for all food sold in competition with school lunches such as food sold in vending machines.
  • Encouraging farm-to-school initiatives and other obesity reducing programs;
  • Introducing new physical activity standards;
  • Expanding support for food service programs to include summer programs, afterschool, and outside of school programs;
  • Establishing new guidelines for school food safety;

The HHFKA and its child nutrition standards are set to expire on September 30, 2015. As Congress begins to debate renewing these programs Senator Gillibrand will be advocating for the following priorities:

  • Give more children healthy summer meals by expanding access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program.
  • Reduce red tape and make it easier for existing after school meal providers to sponsor Summer Meal programs.
  • Strengthen the ties between farmers, producers, and meal service providers by bolstering Farm-to-School programs.
  • Preserve existing nutrition standards including the requirement of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Help school nutrition professionals meet their professional standard requirements, support peer mentorship programs, and provide grants for improved kitchen equipment that enable the preparation of healthy, appetizing meals that children will truly enjoy.
  • Improve student participation rates in the School Breakfast Program.