Don’t expect to see a child nutrition reauthorization bill any time soon. That’s what several political insiders said this week at the School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action Conference (LAC) in Washington D.C.
“We are working on reauthorization, but I’m not sure when we’ll get to it,” said Sen. John Hoeven from North Dakota. Hoeven is on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee as well as the chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration.
“We’re also working on it through the ag appropriations as well. We’ll make sure we continue the whole-grain waivers and sodium reduction levels,” two flexibilities that were introduced in previous appropriations bills.
Congress is in session this week and then has a two-week break. The Senate is fully engaged this week in Supreme Court nomination hearings for Neil Gorsuch, so it’s unlikely that chamber will get to much of anything else this week, insiders said. When Congress returns from break, it has four days before the April 28 budget showdown. If a budget isn’t passed by then, or an appropriations or continuing resolution bill isn’t passed, a government shutdown will occur.
These factors make it highly unlikely that child nutrition reauthorization will occur in the next couple of months, Hoeven said.
Other Washington insiders provided an even bleaker outlook, saying big-ticket items like health care, tax and trade reform could push child nutrition reauthorization to the backburner into next year.
But that doesn’t mean it’s DOA. Appropriations bills are a great way to introduce some changes to the bill, the insiders said, suggesting that an infrastructure bill could be written to include school cafeteria equipment.
Also at LAC, several USDA representatives addressed the crowd asking for patience as the agency is lacking key members on its team, including Sonny Perdue as secretary, who has yet to be confirmed. “We’re an agency in flux—no secretary, no undersecretary. We simply don’t have our policy officials to talk to us about our policies [moving forward],” the USDA representatives said.
As for Perdue, the Senate has set an April 24th date for his confirmation vote. For his part, Hoeven said Perdue “was a great guy and will be confirmed with bipartisan support. He’ll work with us, but he might not always give us [exactly] what we want.”