More About Zoë Neuberger

Zoë Neuberger

Neuberger, a Senior Policy Analyst, joined the Center in May 2001.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at CBPP.org


Potato Mandate Overrides WIC’s Science-Based Policy

December 15, 2014 at 12:50 pm

In requiring the WIC nutrition program to add white potatoes to the foods it provides, Congress last week pandered to industry lobbyists rather than prioritizing the nutritional needs of low-income women and very young children.

Study after study shows that WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) improves birth outcomes and participants’ diets.  One reason is that it provides a “prescription food package” of a limited number of nutritionally important foods that participants’ diets tend to lack.  WIC doesn’t offer white potatoes because low-income women and young children already eat plenty of them.

With the addition of white potatoes to the food package, many participants will consume inadequate amounts of certain other important foods — because every WIC dollar spent on white potatoes is one dollar less for other fruits and vegetables.

The selection of foods to include in the WIC food package has always followed a rigorous, science-based process.  The current foods reflect a review that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) conducted about a decade ago.  IOM is doing a new review to modify the WIC food package to reflect the latest scientific findings.

Yet Congress didn’t wait for the results.  Instead, at the behest of the potato industry, the 2015 funding bill about to become law dictates that WIC begin offering white potatoes. This is the first time in WIC’s 40-year history that Congress has overridden the science-based process and mandated the addition of a particular food.

Ultimately, WIC should return to its sound science base.  The new potato mandate expires if the next scientific review recommends removing white potatoes from the WIC food list.

But Congress’ decision, at the behest of special interests, to substitute its judgment for that of nutrition scientists and maternal and child health experts sets an unwise and dangerous precedent.  Lobbyists for other food industries may now try to prod Congress to insist that WIC offer their foods as well, regardless of the foods’ nutritional value.  That could jeopardize WIC’s widely heralded success at improving participants’ nutrition and health.

High-Poverty Schools Using New Tool to Streamline Meal Programs

December 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Half of the high-poverty schools eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision, which became available nationally this year, adopted it to streamline their meal programs and free up resources for other education priorities, the Agriculture Department (USDA) announced today.

For decades, USDA has offered options to allow high-poverty schools to serve meals to all students at no charge.  Community eligibility, which has phased in over the last four years, further simplifies the meal programs by eliminating the need for schools to process applications or track individual students’ eligibility.

Nearly 14,000 schools adopted community eligibility this year to better serve their students and impoverished communities, and USDA found that more than 6.4 million low-income students attend these high-poverty schools.

Community eligibility is designed to be easy for various types of low-income school districts to implement.  Districts that have adopted it include urban areas like California’s Fresno Unified School District, where 88 percent of students used to qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and rural areas like Kentucky’s Harlan County Public Schools, which serve the families of many laid-off miners.  Harlan County adopted community eligibility when it first became available in Kentucky four years ago, and its test scores have improved from the 14th percentile in the state to the 55th percentile — evidence that feeding hungry children can contribute to an improved learning environment.

Educators at eligible school districts that haven’t adopted community eligibility can learn more about it from their peers and adopt it for the rest of the school year, or for next year, so that the low-income children they serve get the healthy meals they need to grow, learn, and thrive.

Shielding Homeless Children From Hunger

December 1, 2014 at 1:08 pm

More than 1.2 million children attending public school lack a home of their own, my colleague Douglas Rice recently noted.  They also are at greater risk of hunger.  The school meal programs, by providing a healthy breakfast and lunch at no charge, can help meet the nutritional needs of homeless children — as well as millions of other vulnerable low-income children who can’t count on getting enough to eat.

Two program features make it easier for children whose families are going through especially hard times to obtain school meals.

  • Automatic enrollment for homeless children. Regardless of where they attend school, children who are homeless automatically qualify for free school meals.  Their families don’t have to complete an application; once an appropriate school official identifies a child as homeless, the child can be approved for free school meals.  Moreover, starting this school year, eligibility begins as soon as the official notifies the school nutrition program, so children don’t go hungry or have to pay for school meals if school nutrition staff can’t immediately complete the enrollment process.
  • Community eligibility. Schools in poor neighborhoods, where unstable housing can be widespread, can eliminate applications altogether and serve meals at no charge to all students under the Community Eligibility ProvisionThousands of high-poverty schools use this option to serve meals without paperwork or stigma.

Let’s make sure that schools fully utilize these tools to ensure that homeless children get two healthy meals each school day.

Schools Can Do Even More to Shield Children From Hunger

September 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

As students begin a new school year, U.S. Department of Agriculture data confirm that too many children — nearly 16 million — live in families that continue to struggle to afford adequate food, known as “food insecurity.”  While many parents in these households can shield their children from hardship, in more than half of them, children themselves were food insecure.  Poor diets and the stress of not knowing when their next meal will be take an enormous and lasting toll on children’s health, development, and readiness to learn.

That’s why the federal nutrition programs that serve children are so important.  Consider the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, well-established programs that have been feeding millions of children for decades, and that keep improving.  These programs reach a striking share of American children.  On a typical day during the past school year, more than 30 million — nearly three in five — students ate a school lunch.  Some 71 percent of those children — more than 21 million — received a free or reduced-price meal.  That means that more than two in five students benefited from free or reduced-price lunches on a typical day last year (see chart).

Despite this extraordinary reach, some children who could benefit from free school meals miss out because their school district doesn’t automatically enroll them as required.  But states and school districts can take steps to ensure that the most vulnerable children receive free meals.

For example, states can improve the processes for automatically enrolling children for free meals when their family receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamp) benefits.  School districts can make sure they are identifying children who are homeless or in foster care so that they begin receiving free meals immediately during a period of family turmoil.  And under a new policy that’s especially important at the start of the school year, schools can begin feeding low-income children as soon as they receive an application, even if they have a processing backlog.

This school year, high-poverty schools across the country also have a new opportunity, under the Community Eligibility Provision, to feed all students at no cost while simplifying their meal programs.  Thousands of schools have already implemented community eligibility and states may continue to accept applications from eligible districts to offer community eligibility for this school year.

For the millions of children in families that struggle to afford nutritious food, being able to count on receiving two healthy meals each school day is a critical support.

Community Eligibility: A Proven Tool to Address Child Hunger

July 14, 2014 at 11:21 am

Many school districts across the country are adopting community eligibility — which allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge without having to process meal applications — to support their students’ health and learning.  Some eligible districts are wary of the new option (which hasn’t been available nationwide until now) and want to make sure any glitches are worked out before signing up.  But newly available data from the seven states that have had the option for two or three years show that many school districts that took a “wait and see” approach liked what they saw and signed up the next year.

In six of those seven states, the number of schools offering community eligibility grew steadily each year (see chart).  And in the seventh, the District of Columbia, more than half of all students attend community eligibility schools, though the number of participating schools dipped the second year as two schools closed for unrelated reasons.

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So, districts considering community eligibility need not worry about being guinea pigs.  Thousands of schools serving nearly 2 million students have already tested it.

Those states and school districts have also developed useful materials that districts considering the option can use.  And the Agriculture and Education departments have answered many of the implementation questions they raised.

In short, community eligibility is a proven tool to help children receive the healthy meals they need to learn and thrive.