The Center's work on 'Child Nutrition and WIC' Issues


Community Eligibility Is Expanding Nationwide

April 14, 2014 at 10:58 am

With nearly 16 million children living in households that have trouble affording nutritious food at some point during the year, the time is right for thousands of schools serving high-poverty neighborhoods to adopt community eligibility, a powerful option to alleviate childhood hunger that will soon be available nationwide.  The Community Eligibility Provision allows high-poverty schools to eliminate school meal applications and offer breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge.

Four thousand high-poverty schools across 11 states have already implemented community eligibility, and the White House estimates that 18,000 additional schools will be eligible to adopt the provision for the coming school year.

Community eligibility eliminates stigma and has led to a striking increase in the number of children eating breakfast and lunch at school.  Daily lunch participation rose 13 percent in schools in Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan that adopted the Community Eligibility Provision for two years.  Even more remarkable, daily breakfast participation in these schools rose 25 percent (see chart).  As a result, 29,000 more children were eating breakfast daily.

School districts will soon learn whether they qualify for community eligibility for the next school year — and they’ll need to act quickly to adopt the provision.

  • By May 1, states must publish lists of schools that qualify to use the Community Eligibility Provision during the next school year.
  • By June 30, school districts must decide if they want to offer community eligibility in some or all of their qualifying schools.

School districts that are considering adopting community eligibility can start preparing now.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has implementation guidance and a handy tool available so school districts can estimate their federal meal reimbursements under community eligibility.  Additional resources, including materials developed by the states that have implemented the Community Eligibility Provision, are also readily available.

Community eligibility has already ensured that low-income children in thousands of high-poverty schools receive two nutritious meals so they are ready to learn all day.  Over the next three months, thousands more schools can choose to be hunger-free.

Ryan Budget Gets 69 Percent of Its Cuts From Low-Income Programs [Updated]

April 10, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Some 69 percent of the cuts in House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s new budget would come from programs that serve people of limited means, our recently released report finds.  These disproportionate cuts — which likely account for at least $3.3 trillion of the budget’s $4.8 trillion in non-defense cuts over the next decade — contrast sharply with the budget’s rhetoric about helping the poor and promoting opportunity.

The low-income cuts fall into five categories:

  • Health coverage.  The Ryan budget has at least $2.7 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and subsidies to help low- and moderate-income people buy private insurance.  Under the Ryan plan, at least 40 million low- and moderate-income people — that’s 1 in 8 Americans — would become uninsured by 2024.
  • Food assistance.  The Ryan budget cuts SNAP (formerly food stamps) by $137 billion over the next decade.  It adopts the harsh SNAP cuts that the House passed last September — which would force 3.8 million people off the program in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office — and then converts SNAP to a block grant in 2019 and imposes still-deeper cuts.
  • Help affording college.  The Ryan budget cuts Pell Grants for low- and moderate-income students by up to $125 billion through such means as freezing the maximum grant (which already covers less than a third of college costs) for ten years, cutting eligibility in various ways, and repealing all mandatory funding for Pell Grants.
  • Other mandatory programs serving low-income Americans.  The Ryan budget cuts an additional $385 billion — beyond its SNAP cuts — from the budget category containing many mandatory programs for low- and moderate-income Americans, such as Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled, the school lunch and child nutrition programs, and the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits for lower-income working families.  We estimate that about $150 billion of these cuts would fall on such low-income programs, as explained in the final paragraph of this blog.
  • Low-income discretionary programs.  The Ryan budget cuts these programs by about $160 billion, on top of the cuts already enacted through the 2011 Budget Control Act’s discretionary caps and sequestration.

Our estimates are likely conservative.  In cases where the Ryan budget cuts funding in a budget category but doesn’t distribute that cut among specific programs — such as its cuts in non-defense discretionary programs and its unspecified cuts in mandatory programs — we assume that all programs in that category, including programs not designed to assist low-income households, will be cut by the same percentage.

Ryan Budget Gets 69 Percent of Its Cuts from Low-Income Programs

April 3, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Update, April 10: This blog post has been updatedClick here for the full analysis of the cuts to programs serving people with low or moderate incomes in Chairman Ryan’s budget.

Some 69 percent of the cuts in House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s new budget would come from programs that serve people of limited means, our forthcoming report finds.  These disproportionate cuts — which likely account for at least $3.3 trillion of the budget’s $4.8 trillion in non-defense cuts over the next decade — contrast sharply with the budget’s rhetoric about helping the poor and promoting opportunity.

The low-income cuts fall into five categories:

  • Health coverage.  The Ryan budget has at least $2.7 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and subsidies to help low- and moderate-income people buy private insurance.  Under the Ryan plan, at least 40 million low- and moderate-income people — that’s 1 in 8 Americans — would become uninsured by 2024.
  • Food assistance.  The Ryan budget cuts SNAP (formerly food stamps) by $137 billion over the next decade.  It adopts the harsh SNAP cuts that the House passed last September — which would force 3.8 million people off the program in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office — and then converts SNAP to a block grant in 2019 and imposes still-deeper cuts.
  • Help affording college.  The Ryan budget cuts Pell Grants for low- and moderate-income students by up to $125 billion through such means as freezing the maximum grant (which already covers less than a third of college costs) for ten years, cutting eligibility in various ways, and repealing all mandatory funding for Pell Grants.
  • Other mandatory programs serving low-income Americans.  The Ryan budget cuts an additional $385 billion — beyond its SNAP cuts —from the budget category containing many mandatory programs for low- and moderate-income Americans, such as Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled, the school lunch and child nutrition programs, and the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits for lower-income working families.  We estimate that at least $250 billion of these cuts would fall on such low-income programs, as explained in the final paragraph of this blog.
  • Low-income discretionary programs.  The Ryan budget cuts these programs by about $250 billion, on top of the cuts already enacted through the 2011 Budget Control Act’s discretionary caps and sequestration.

Our estimates are likely conservative.  In cases where the Ryan budget cuts funding in a budget category but doesn’t distribute that cut among specific programs — such as its cuts in non-defense discretionary programs and its unspecified cuts in mandatory programs — we assume that all programs in that category, including programs not designed to assist low-income households, will be cut by the same percentage.

First Lady: More High-Poverty Schools Can Become Hunger Free

February 25, 2014 at 4:06 pm

At a White House event this morning, First Lady Michelle Obama highlighted an important new provision that allows schools in high-poverty areas to fight hunger by providing free breakfasts and lunches to all students.  Known as community eligibility, it has been phasing in since 2011 and this fall will be available to any school district nationwide that meets the eligibility criteria.  More than 22,000 schools serving 9 million children will be eligible next school year, according to the White House.

CBPP has closely monitored the improvements that community eligibility has brought to schools thus far.  We’ve also issued a guide with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to help states and schools implement the option.  More information on community eligibility is available from the Agriculture Department and FRAC.

A school can qualify if 40 percent of its students are eligible for free school meals automatically — without completing an application — because they have been identified as low income by another program (such as SNAP, formerly food stamps) or are especially likely to face hunger (such as children who are homeless).  That group represents just some of the children who would qualify for free or reduced-price school meals if they completed an application.  Across the schools that participated in community eligibility in its first two years, 82 percent of students had been approved for free or reduced-price meals the prior year.

The First Lady emphasized the benefits of community eligibility for students, parents, and schools.  Students no longer face stigma in the cafeteria from receiving a free meal, and studies show they are more likely to eat nutritious meals at school (especially breakfast).  Parents no longer have to complete school meal applications and can rest assured that their children are well fed during the day.

Schools no longer have to process applications or have a cashier figure out whether to provide a free or reduced-price meal every time a child goes through the lunch line.  They can use the freed-up staff time to focus on improving the quality of meals or the lunchroom environment.

Community eligibility has been extremely well-received by schools.  As a Michigan state official put it:

Community eligibility has been an unqualified success in Michigan since we first started it in the fall of 2011.  Schools have reported increased student participation in school meals along with higher food service revenues, and quicker, streamlined service in the cafeteria.  The overwhelmingly positive experiences of the schools that implemented community eligibility in the first two years have demonstrated what a great opportunity this is and have encouraged more and more schools to take advantage of this option.

Politics Wins a Round, but the WIC Potato Fight Isn’t Over

February 10, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack should reject Congress’s recent call to add white potatoes to the limited list of foods that the WIC program provides.  The report accompanying the omnibus spending bill that Congress approved last month instructs the Agriculture Department (USDA) to include all kinds of vegetables, including white potatoes, in the WIC food package; if Secretary Vilsack decides not to, he must submit a report to Congress explaining why.

Potatoes have never been part of the WIC food package, and with good reason.  The low-income women and young children that WIC serves already consume plenty of starchy vegetables — the most popular of which is the white potato — while under-consuming fruits and other vegetables, according to the most recent independent scientific review.  Therefore, Secretary Vilsack should leave white potatoes out unless a new, independent review of the science shows that they should be added.

WIC provides nutritious foods, counseling on healthy eating, and health care referrals to roughly 9 million low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children under age 5.  It was never intended to provide a full range of foods.  It’s a supplemental program, providing the key nutrients that nutrition scientists say are missing from the diets of low-income pregnant and nursing women, infants, and young children.

If participants start using their WIC fruit and vegetable vouchers — which amount to just $6 or $10 a month — to buy white potatoes, that would not only raise starch consumption but also leave less for foods that participants don’t eat enough of, such as dark green leafy vegetables.

Throughout WIC’s 40-year history, members of Congress whose states or districts produce or process various food items have sometimes urged WIC to include those items.  But

Congress has never required WIC to include (or exclude) any particular food item, believing correctly that such decisions should reflect scientific evidence, not political pressure.

To no small degree, WIC’s well-documented success at improving birth outcomes and participants’ nutrition and health reflects the program’s insulation from political pressures and its sole focus on promoting maternal and child health.  Capitulating to political pressure in this instance would encourage various segments of the food industry to line up members of Congress to push their products in WIC, as well.

While USDA hasn’t announced a decision, it “continues to believe in the importance of basing the nutrition standards for WIC on the best science available,” according to a spokesperson.  That sounds like Secretary Vilsack intends to place children’s well-being first, where it belongs.