The School Nutrition Association (SNA) has come out strongly against the block grant provision in H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 was passed last month by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, saying it would cause states to lose millions of dollars in federal funding. The bill establishes a block grant pilot project for school nutrition programs in three states. The block grants would be specific levels of revenues given to states by the federal government to subsidize school meal programs in their borders, a change from the direct funding approach currently used.
At an event on June 15 hosted by SNA, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), the groups claimed that at a minimum, block grant pilot states would lose all paid-meal reimbursements and the 6-cents per lunch reimbursement collected by meal programs certified as meeting federal nutrition standards.
“The proposed block grant funding cuts would cripple school meal programs and compromise the quality of meals for students,” said SNA President Jean Ronnei. “Worse yet, funding caps will eliminate annual adjustments necessary to manage higher food costs or increased student demand for school meals due to rising enrollment and economic down-turns.”
A fact sheet published by SNA claimed that the finite funding mechanism of the block grant approach lack the flexibility to adjust funding to meet changing circumstances.
“Thanks to entitlement status, school meal programs always have the necessary funding to meet students’ nutritional needs,” the fact sheet states. “When school enrollment increases, or when a recession results in layoffs, the number of students receiving free and reduced price meals increases. Schools can serve more meals knowing their reimbursement will rise to cover the added cost. Block grants eliminate that guarantee…Block grants provide a finite amount of funding each year. If circumstances change mid-year, states do not receive additional funds to cover the cost of serving meals to low income students.”
It cited a 2015 report from the Congressional Budget Office that warned that “block grants that are smaller than the funding that current legislation would provide would probably eliminate access to nutrition programs for some children and reduce it for others. Such grants would also leave the programs unable to respond automatically to economic downturns.”
The fact sheet also noted that the block grant pilot caps funding at the amount a state received in free and reduced price meals served in Fiscal Year 2016, which means that they would not get the additional six cents per lunch reimbursement they earned under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the approximately 29 cent reimbursement for meals served to full price students.
Among examples of the impact of this restriction, SNA cited several specific examples, such as Palm Beach County Schools in Florida standing to lose $1.9 million in annual reimbursements, enough funding to cover the cost of food for over one million lunches, and Oakland Schools in Michigan, which would face a $2 million annual revenue gap that would have to come out of the school district general fund.
Another objection is that the block grant approach ends uniformity and consistency among school meal programs nationwide in favor of rules set by each state, including rules on free or reduced price meal eligibility. “States could abandon all federal nutrition mandates, and under the proposed pilot, states would be required to only serve one ‘affordable’ meal a day to students, threatening recent national progress in expanding student access to healthy school breakfasts,” it charges.
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