Ridge Policy Group (RPG), a top DC lobbying firm, is thrilled to see its client’s bill mentioned in the House Education and Labor Subcommittee hearing entitled, “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service” on June 23rd. At the hearing, we heard from the Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Cindy Long.
Rep. Hayes discussed her legislation, the Scratch Cook Meals for Student’s Act, which would award competitive grants to school food authorities and local educational agencies to promote scratch cooking. Scratch cooking means the preparation of food using ingredients that are unprocessed or minimally processed. The bill would also authorize the Department of Agriculture to partner with one or more non-profit organizations to help carry out the grant program and provide technical assistance and resources.
RPG is dedicated to improving school food nationwide on behalf of our clients. Moving towards scratch cooking could improve the health and wellness of our children. Below is a more detailed summary of the hearing.
Chair Bonamici’s Questions:
Rep Bonamici: Summer EVT was part of the COVID emergency spending and provided money Nationwide. Do you think this program should continue?
Answer: Summer EVT has been proven to have large impacts on reducing hunger in the summer. It reduces hunger by approximately a third. It provides a path forward and including it in the COVID relief was smart. We are encouraging it become a permanent policy moving forward.
Rep. Bonamici: The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is an important part of our care economy. Last year, I introduced the bipartisan Early Childhood Nutrition Improvement Act, which includes a reimbursement of an additional food or snack in the CACFP. Can you talk about the importance of strengthening this program?
Answer: When it comes to expanding the CACFP, today’s legislation does provide support for that. It expands eligibility to the family daycare portion of the care economy. There has been a consistent reduction in this community, and I would apricate the chance to work with you to improve that.
Ranking Member Fulcher’s Questions:
Rep. Fulcher: Please explain the new Healthy Food Incentive Fund.
Answer: The Fund is meant to support innovation in healthier school meals. It will provide resources for schools to have healthier meals.
Rep Fulcher: Who is presiding over this? Is it local or state officials?
Answer: This program is yet to be rolled out, but it is intended to highlight schools that have used innovative methods to make school meals healthier, meaning that some of this money will be sent to the local level to help transition.
Representative Adams’ Questions:
Rep Adams: What is the Administration’s approach to this transitional year in school meals programs after COVID and what plans does FNS have to ease that transition as children go back to school?
Answer: The Administration acknowledges that the schools will have difficulty in transitioning from the financial support that they have received over the past few years. This includes getting materials and the labor they need to keep up with pandemic practices. FNS is providing some operational flexibility to allow schools to continue to operate grab and go programs.
Ranking Member of the Full Committee Fox’s questions:
Rep. Fox: Waivers from COVID are now ending what are you doing to ensure FNS has a smooth transition to going back to the old standard?
Answer: We are looking at things like procurement and bids. FNS is looking at how to make sure that contracts get adjusted. Trying to make this transition as painless as possible.
Rep Hayes’s Questions:
Rep Hayes: When children get more involved in the process of making their food i.e., growing vegetables at a school garden and harvesting them, they have a greater perspective on a healthier meal. Looking forward, how can congress help scale up programs like the farm to school program so all communities can experience its benefits?
Answer: Support strengthening state infrastructure and provide funding to ongoing programs. We have recently announced a 60-million-dollar investment in state infrastructure.
Rep Hayes: I’ve introduced legislation, the Scratch Cook Meals for Student’s Act, which would create a grant program to help transition and cook many of their meals from scratch. Engage with local farmers and have the school and community working together. But, in order to do this, districts need to fundamentally change their food service programs and by extension their food service employees. What are the larger workforce development implications of scratch cooked meals in schools and how can we create and develop a workforce to lift programs like this off the ground?
Answer: One thing we will be doing moving forward is providing school nutrition professionals with the support they need to improve and innovate around school meals. That includes things like training and resources for school nutrition professionals around scratch cooking.
Rep Thompson’s Questions:
Rep Thompson: How can you show that these programs will be cost neutral and provide food that students will eat?
Answer: From personal experience, school nutritional quality standards will work. They must be workable and durable. That’s what we will stand by as we work on these proposed rules.
Rep. Fernandez’s Questions:
Rep. Fernandez: Do you support a pilot program to allow tribes to administer their own food assistance programs?
Answer: We are committed to tribal sovereignty across all our programs. Certainly, a program to help us explore the best pathway forward is welcome.
Rep. Fitzgerald’s Questions:
Rep Fitzgerald: What will the sodium limit be for schools?
Answer: We are introducing a rule to address sodium for the next two years. We will consider every aspect of this proposed rule.
Rep. Fitzgerald: How would you work to make sure this rule is achievable across the board? Answer: We are listening and talking to school nutrition professionals at all levels to see where we can help in this transition. We are working on funding to help drive towards things like scratch cooking because it reduces the level of sodium in food.