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Build Back Better Act Includes Critical Investments in Child Nutrition Programs & Social Safety Net

October 28, 2021

Makes progress towards fighting hunger & addressing racial inequities

Today, President Biden released the framework for the Build Back Better Act, legislation to support the nation still reeling from the hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite federal interventions so far California remains in an ongoing hunger crisis with overall food insecurity  nearly double pre-pandemic levels (18.2% vs. 9.9%) with deep inequities for communities of color, especially families with children. As of September 27, 24.9% of Black, 29.5% of Latinx, and 23.8% of Asian-American families reported food insecurity, that’s more than double or more the rate for White households with children (12.2%).

Thankfully, the framework invests $10 billion into the federal child nutrition programs, establishing an critical foundation to build towards a hunger free future. It includes two years of Summer EBT that allows both states and tribal organizations to participate, five years of critical improvements to the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs by enhancements to the Community Eligibility Provision, and invests in school kitchens and healthy meal incentives – programs that CAFB, our partners, and our food banks have fought for years to achieve. (More detailed summary of these programs below.)

The framework also contains key investments that will fight hunger and the root cause of poverty, including:

  • Child Tax Credit: a one year extension, providing $300 per month per child under 6 and $250 per month per child ages 6 to 17. The CTC has been shown to dramatically reduce food insecurity, with food as the most common purchase by families using CTC payments.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit: one year extension providing up to $1,100 for approximately 17 million low-income workers nationwide.
  • Child care and pre-school: $400 billion to provide free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, estimated at 6 million children, and make child care more affordable, for six years. Child care costs will be limited to 7% of income for families earning up to 250% of the state median income. This is a vital anti-hunger investment as food security has been shown to rise when parents return to work given the cost, time, and stress of managing child care.
  • College students: increase the maximum Pell Grant by $550 and expand access to DREAMers.

These and other provisions will not only improve overall food security, but also help close the racial inequities of food insecurity and poverty made worse by the recent economic crisis.

CAFB thanks California’s Congressional leaders who fought for these investments, led by Speaker Pelosi and Rep. Lofgren whose leadership has been critical throughout all pandemic relief legislation, Senators Padilla and Feinstein who elevated how programs reach California’s immigrant children too often excluded from aid, Rep. DeSaulnier and Rep. Levin who led letters and authored legislation incorporated in this package, and all members who weighed in to secure this outcome.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we created solutions that proved hunger is a solvable problem – a policy choice — and that a hunger-free future is possible,” said Andrew Cheyne, director of government affairs. “Today’s framework establishes a crucial foundation that says we will not go back to the pre-pandemic normal of widespread child hunger. Instead, we will continue progress toward healthy school meals for all children, and provide food benefits to help families buy groceries during the long summer break.”

While less than the $35 billion that the House initially proposed, these investments provide a critical continuation of pandemic policies enabling school meals for all students, and Pandemic EBT when school meals aren’t available.

We call on federal policymakers to swiftly enact this into law, and permanently extend these critical provisions to prevent a hunger cliff for our nation’s children.

Our initial summary of the main child nutrition provisions are as follows, which we will update as more information becomes available.

Summer EBT

The framework establishes nationwide Summer EBT for two years, starting in summer 2023 (after Pandemic EBT expires). Summer EBT will provide a CalFresh (SNAP) like benefit to low-income children of $65 per month during the summer, indexed to inflation. Eligible students include those who receive free or reduced-price school meals (including those who attend Community Eligibility Provision, Provision 2, or Provision 3 schools).  States and Indian Tribal Organizations that participate in WIC can provide Summer EBT.

Summer EBT is a long-held California priority now led by Rep. Levin (CA-49) in H.R. 3519 The Stop Child Hunger Act, and for several years by now-retired Rep. Susan Davis. The San Diego Hunger Coalition first raised this issue to the national agenda back in 2014 and it’s been a priority for California and Western Regional states ever since. USDA’s evaluation found that Summer EBT reduces the worst form of child hunger by 30%, a remarkably effective intervention.

More recently, Speaker Pelosi (CA-12) and Rep. Lofgren (CA-19) and other California leaders were instrumental in establishing the Pandemic EBT program, providing food benefits to families while school campuses were closed during COVID-19. Research by Congressional Hunger Center Fellow Rocio Perez with 1,500 California families showed how vital the P-EBT program has been in feeding immigrant children and families excluded from other forms of aid.

The framework builds on the incredibly successful Summer EBT pilots, and Pandemic EBT program and will help prevent a massive child hunger cliff as summer 2022 will be the final issuance of Pandemic EBT. Food banks have long been on the frontlines of child summer hunger when kids lose access to school meals, and know how impactful this investment is.

School meals

The framework includes five years of substantial improvements to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), including an option for statewide grouping, increasing the Identified Student Percentage multiplier to 2.5 from 1.6, and lowering the threshold for CEP groupings (excluding statewide) to 25%, making it easier for communities or entire states to provide universal meals.

The framework also invests $250 million in incentives for schools to innovate above the federal nutrition standards for school meals, and $30 million for school kitchen infrastructure that is long-championed by Rep. DeSaulnier (CA-11) H.R. 4379 the School Food Modernization Act.

This package builds on California’s first in the nation enactment of school meals for all that made history in ensuring not just school meals for all students but also invested in the school nutrition workforce and kitchens, and in California grown meals. We applaud the President and Congress for embracing a similarly comprehensive approach, and thank Governor Newsom, State Superintendent Thurmond, Senator Nancy Skinner, Asm. McCarty and Rivas, and other California leaders for their foundational work.

Crucially, the CEP enhancements will enable other states to advance healthy school meals for all – a must have for every student in America.

It will also reinforce California’s policy, enabling significant savings by the federal government greatly improving its rightful role in reimbursing meals through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. Utilizing the statewide option would also provide tremendous administrative simplification, promoting government efficiency and reducing the burden on schools that are facing such challenges that they are considering layoffs and even closures. These provisions will allow for significant reinvestment into healthier, locally-grown meals and better support our school nutrition workforce and infrastructure, and in turn supporting our children and schools. This is a true investment in America’s future.

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