Child Nutrition

Federal child nutrition programs help ensure that children in low-income families are getting the food they need to be healthy and productive. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey, the rate of child poverty in the U.S. was 19.9 percent in 2013, up from 16.2 percent in 2000. The federal poverty level in 2015 was $24,250 for a family of four. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 19.5 percent of all children lived in households that were food insecure in 2013, up from 16.9 percent in 2007. This means their families had to scramble, with varying outcomes, to put food on the table. Both poverty and food insecurity are much higher for Hispanic and African-American households than for non-Hispanic White households.

Two important sources of data have been released in the past several years demonstrating the extent of food insecurity on a community level.  The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) released data on Food Hardship in 2014 showing that more than one in six Americans struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families. In some states, the figure is almost one in four. This report also includes food hardship data for each congressional district.  Feeding America released their Map the Meal Gap data which represents food insecurity data on a county level.  Both reports illustrate the impact of hunger and poverty in every congressional district and county across the nation, though the levels and manifestations of hunger vary.

2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Many federal programs for child nutrition are currently authorized under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which is set to expire on September 30, 2015. The law also expanded the availability of meals for children in school, outside school hours, and in child care settings and created standards to improve the nutritional quality of meals in these programs.

The reauthorization includes the following programs:

  • School Breakfast Program   
  • National School Lunch Program
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program
  • Summer Food Service Program
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program
  • WIC

This fall, Congress has the opportunity to protect and bolster these programs to close the gaps and ensure that all children have year-round access to nutritious meals.

Why are child nutrition programs important?

Federal child nutrition programs are efficient and effective, ensuring that children receive the nutrition they need to be healthy and successful.

  • Only 1 in 6 low-income children who receive free or reduced lunch during the school year participate in the Summer Nutrition Program
  • WIC reduces hunger and childhood obesity
  • 52 percent of children start kindergarten after the age of five and a half
  • 48 percent of kindergartners are at or below 199 percent of the federal poverty level
    • WIC requirements vary by state between 100-185 percent of the federal poverty level

2015 Child Nutrition Bills

Multiple child nutrition bills have been introduced in the 114th Congress.

  • Summer Meals Act of 2015 (H.R.1728, S.613), which would increase participation in the Summer Food Service Program. In the House this bill has been assigned to the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and in the Senate it has been assigned to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
  • Stop Child Summer Hunger Act of 2015 (H.R.2715, S.1539), which would provide summer electronic benefit transfer cards (EBT cards) for families of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch. This bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
  • Wise Investment in Our Children Act (WIC Act, H.R.2660, S.1796), which would extend eligibility for WIC up to age six. This bill has been assigned to the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

RESULTS supports these bills and hopes they will be included in the broader reauthorization of the child nutrition programs. RESULTS also supports the transition to electronic benefit transfer cards (EBT cards) for WIC, which make grocery shopping easier and reduces the stigma surrounding these programs. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act mandates that all WIC state agencies implement EBT systems by October 1, 2020.

Threats to SNAP in Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Unfortunately, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 also included cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to pay for some of the improvements to child nutrition programs. RESULTS is concerned that Congress may try to make further cuts to SNAP to offset the costs of improving child nutrition programs as it works on reauthorization legislation for 2015. Polling data from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) shows overwhelming support for federal anti-hunger programs. For example, over 70 percent of respondents said that SNAP was important for the United States and oppose cutting SNAP to pay for child nutrition programs or to reduce the deficit.  It is vital that SNAP is not cut to pay for these programs. Cuts to SNAP of other programs would result in the loss of services for millions of Americans, sending them deeper into poverty.

Additional Resources