Park and recreation agencies are key partners in promoting community health and wellbeing; in fact, they are the largest provider of nutritious meals for youth outside of schools. Recently, the House Education and Labor Committee introduced H.R. 8450: The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act – a bill that would reauthorize federal programs aimed at promoting nutrition under the Child Nutrition Act. This process, known as Child Nutrition Reauthorization, has not occurred since 2010. As a result, federal child nutrition programs have been operating at the same relative levels of funding with the same policy objectives in mind for 12 years. NRPA strongly urges the passage of the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, and with it, a robust Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) that supports youth and their families.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Child Nutrition Act into law in 1966, stating “good food is essential to good learning” during the signing ceremony. The Child Nutrition Act has served as the guiding law for federal nutrition funding for decades. This vital law encompasses many programs that offer critical nutrition to youth by providing meals in a community-based setting, and relieve some financial and emotional burdens of families by assisting with saving and other expenses. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP), which are governed by the Child Nutrition Act, provide millions of meals to children daily in schools. CNR also authorizes out-of-school-time programs like the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which park and recreation agencies rely on to serve children in summer, weekend, and after-school care settings.
Nearly half of agencies (47 percent) provide nutrition programs, serving millions of meals to youth, providing evidence-based nutrition education to families, establish partnerships that support and sustain healthy living practices, and advance innovative food access strategies. Park and recreation agencies serve as one of the largest providers of summer meals to youth through the SFSP and support afterschool meal programs year-round for children through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
These programs must be updated to include newer funding levels accounting for rising costs over the past decade and research and innovations that expand the impact of these vital programs and improve the health of children and adults experiencing food insecurity. Allowing this expired authorization to continue to go unaddressed is a disservice to the more than 6 million children facing food insecurity and community institutions like parks and recreation and schools who provide essential nutrition services.
Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids includes many provisions that would directly support children and families experiencing hunger, modernize out-of-school-time meal service, and positively impact park and recreation agencies that participate in these programs. Some of the updates that are more relevant for parks and recreation include:
- Allowing children in households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to be automatically eligible for CACFP meals and snacks in out-of-school time programs
- Allowing meal service providers to be eligible for reimbursement for an additional meal or snack under CACFP
- Reducing the threshold to provide free meals via the SFSP from 50 percent to 40 percent. Currently, for sites to provide free meals to all children via the SFSP at least 50 percent of children in the community must qualify for free and reduced-price school meals. Reducing that number would expand access to more children facing food insecurity and reduce stigma for students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
Together, these important changes would ease the burden on families who enroll in multiple programs and the providers who administer them.
NRPA strongly supports a robust and inclusive reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act and a final bill that maintains these provisions. It is crucial that Members of Congress hear from you on the impact of federal nutrition programs in your community. Ask them to support Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids using the form below.
Asia Simms (she/her) is NRPA's Park Champion Initiative Co-op.