Tuesday, November 30, 2010

S. 3307 - Senator Blanche Meyers Lambert Lincoln's Last Hurrah

Senator Blanche Lincoln

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, S. 3307, was introduced May 5, 2010 by Arkansas' Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln. Lincoln lost her bid for reelection to Republican Representative John Boozman. Ironically she defeated Boozman's brother Fay Boozman to become a United States Senator.

On August 5th it passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent. It has been biding time in the House Committee on Education and Labor and the House Budget Committee. Today it makes its way to the Rules Committee as it matriculates to the floor.

The major provisions of S. 3307

1. The direct certification of children receiving Medicaid benefits. Currently local educational agencies are required to directly certify children in households which receive benefits under SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and TANF, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or receipt of benefits under the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

Research has consistently shown that direct certification is highly accurate and reduces paperwork for families and school districts. This provision expands direct certification to include the Medicaid program. Direct certification will be conducted in areas selected by the USDA based on optional applications submitted by interested states.

2. Eliminating individual applications through community eligibility establishes two new options by which schools or local educational agencies with very high proportions of low-income children can receive federal reimbursement without collecting individual paper applications from households and tracking student eligibility in the cafeteria.

Reimbursement for these low-income schools will instead be based on other sources of available data, including the results of direct certification and the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

There are more than 10,000 schools in which more than 80 percent of the students are certified for free or reduced price meals. These schools serve more than 5 million children, who represent more than one in ten students nationwide.

3. The expansion of afterschool meals for at-risk children. In the vast majority of states throughout the country, the Child and Adult Care Food Program At-Risk Afterschool Snack Program provides reimbursement to eligible institutions for a snack served to children participating in an afterschool program. This provision expands reimbursement for meals in afterschool programs to all 50 states, ensuring that more low-income children have access to a nutritious meal during after school hours.

4. Performance-based reimbursement rate increase for new meal patterns, means healthier food will be served. The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) released recommendations in October 2009 for updating the meal patterns for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to make them consistent with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Implementing IOM's recommendations and raising the quality of school meals will mean significant changes for virtually all schools in the program. Schools will be required to serve increased portions of fruits and vegetables, which may come in a variety of forms, including from food products derived out of pulse crops such as dry beans, dry peas, lentils, and chick peas, which are important food crops that play an important role in a balanced diet due to their low fat content, and high protein and fiber content.

In addition to more fruits and vegetables, increased servings of whole grains, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products will be required, all of which the IOM estimates will increase the food cost per lunch.

Once interim or final regulations are promulgated, the Secretary of Agriculture will provide an additional 6 cents per lunch, adjusted annually for inflation, in reimbursement for local educational agencies that the State agency certifies are in compliance with the new meal patterns. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that nearly all schools would be able to comply with the new requirements and receive the higher reimbursement rate.

5.The local school wellness policy implementation was an initiative of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-265). That initiative was designed to encourage local school districts to come up with their own plans to promote, among other things, sound nutrition and physical activity at the local level. This section continues and updates the requirements of the local wellness policy by requiring that all local wellness policies include, at a minimum, goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other school-based policies that promote student wellness.

6.Nutrition Standards for all food sold in schools are established. To promote healthful eating and to protect taxpayer investments in school meals, this provision requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish science-based nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools other than foods currently reimbursed through the school lunch or breakfast programs.

Such standards will apply on the entire school campus until the end of the school day. In establishing nutrition standards, the Secretary is directed to adopt measures consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, consider authoritative scientific research and the practical application of nutrition standards, as well as existing voluntary agreements, and provide for exemptions for school sponsored fundraisers if they are sanctioned by the school. So the P.T.A. can still hold the bake sale and cake walk.

7. Nutrition and wellness goals for meals served through the Child and Adult Care Food Program are established. This provision makes several changes to the nutritional requirements of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). It CACFP meal patterns will be based on the most recent Dietary Guidelines, similar to what is currently required for school lunches and breakfasts.

The provision also requires that child care providers serve only low-fat or fat-free milk to children age two and up, consistent with recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and to make fresh, safe drinking water available to children throughout the day to ensure proper hydration and develop positive attitudes toward water as a healthy, acceptable fluid for consumption. Water is good and good for you, soda pop is not!

8.Provides support for breastfeeding in the WIC program. WIC has historically supported breastfeeding with poor results. WIC recipients lag behind the general population in selecting breastfeeding over infant formula. In recent years, WIC has accelerated its effort to promote breastfeeding in the WIC Program, notably through increasing funding for breastfeeding peer counselors and by changing WIC food packages to increase the attractiveness of breastfeeding and decrease the attractiveness of infant formula.

This provision establishes a set of high performance bonuses to state agencies that have demonstrated either the highest proportion of breastfed infants or the greatest improvement in the proportion of breastfed infants, with an emphasis on fully breastfed infants.

In addition, this provision expands the collection of WIC program data on breastfeeding rates by requiring the WIC Program to collect and publish breastfeeding data annually, rather than biannually, and also to publish rates of breastfeeding not just at the state agency level, but for local agencies as well.

9. Controlling costs by Nationwide implementation of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) technology in the WIC program. One of the major success stories in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been the transition to electronic benefit transfer (EBT) technology for the delivery of program benefits.

Prior to EBT, benefits were delivered in the form of paper coupons that were used by SNAP participants in exchange for food at authorized SNAP vendors. The transition from paper coupons to EBT has created a much more positive experience for SNAP participants in the retail setting, as well as a more efficient way to process benefits for SNAP vendors.

Updating technology in the WIC Program will allow State WIC staff at all levels to perform operations more effectively and efficiently, increasing accountability and streamlining program monitoring and business practices through electronic solutions.

At the clinic level it will enhance client services by improving clinic efficiencies. EBT will improve access to prescribed WIC foods by allowing the participant to shop for benefits when they want to and in the amounts they wish to purchase.

EBT will also simplify the retail point-of-sale transaction and will reduce participant stigma and improve the shopping experience. WIC benefit redemption and payment for WIC transactions will be vastly improved for retailers using EBT.

S. 3307 emerged from the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Mark-up Session as the work process of remarkable bi-partisanship. Members of the Committee in attendance included: Senators Lincoln, Chambliss, Harkin, Leahy, Stabenow, Nelson, Brown, Casey, Klobuchar, Bennet, Gillibrand, Lugar, Cochran, Roberts, Johanns, Grassley and Thune. Blanche Lincoln chairs that committee.

Amendments were offered and accepted by Senators Thune, Lincoln, Stabenow, Bennet, and Brown. These amendments passed unanimously by voice vote. Only one disputed amendment failed. Senator Chambliss proposed to use the Conservation Stewardship Program as a funding offset as well as provide additional funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program and Summer Food Service Program. The amendment failed on a roll call vote of 10 yeas and 11 nays.

The least the lame duck session of the 111th Congress can do is take care of the kids. This is a good bill. I hope history remembers Senator Lincoln more for the good in this bill than for the divisions within the Democratic Party which probably cost her the third term she sought.  If this bill marks the end of Senator Lincoln's public service, then she ends on a high note.

For a more in depth view of S. 3307 read the Senate Report 111-178 on line, via Thomas - the Library of Congress' website, at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/R?cp111:FLD010:@1(sr178):.

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