During Nutrition Month in March, national and state advocacy groups are asking for increased supports and efforts around feeding programs. As Kentucky continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we know child feeding programs are essential for kids and families as more than 20% of Kentucky households with children reported sometimes or often not having enough food to eat at the end of 2020, a rate that has been increasing since October.
Temporary changes to food assistance programs during the pandemic have helped increase access to food for many families, including the recent federal authorization of additional funding to provide a SNAP benefit increase to the lowest-income families. But, the largest need for support is for federal policies aiming to improve and increase access to child feeding programs across the nation. Federally, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) outlines rules for programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and out-of-school time food programs.
Since 2010, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization has operated without being updated – an action that should occur every five years. Unlike other federal reauthorizations, the CNR does not lead to a government shut down when it is not updated, but the policies and programs included have become outdated and are not able to address the hunger crisis the nation has seen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, Congress has an important opportunity to reauthorize these programs with changes that will strengthen access and support participation for underserved populations, while ensuring nutritional quality. Temporary changes to federal child feeding programs were vital to Kentucky kids during the COVID-19 pandemic and should be made permanent to ensure continued access to food for all kids and families.
- Increase access to meals during out-of-school times by including flexibilities allowed during the pandemic as permanent rules – including a model that mirrors P-EBT for summer meals;
- Improve access to meals through CACFP to address gaps in access that occurred due to the pandemic and increase reimbursements for feeding program providers and sponsors;
- Increase the number of students receiving free breakfast and lunch at school by expanding community eligibility, leveraging direct certification options within schools, and reduce the use of lunch debt accumulation; and
- Improve access to nutritious foods for postpartum women and children by extending the eligibility period for WIC and making flexibilities allowing for remote enrollment and services permanent.
Access to food has increasingly become a topic of concern for Kentucky families and advocates, and support is needed beyond March’s celebration of Nutrition Month. Join us in asking our federal leaders to update and reauthorize the CNR in 2021.