Frank DiPasquale 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Making the case for commodity support of the School Breakfast Program. SNAPSHOT ■ USDA Foods support of the School Breakfast Program is a recurring legislative priority for SNA and its members. ■ This initiative has terrific win-win potential, benefitting students, educators, school districts and the agriculture community. ■ Even with considerable support from allies and little opposition, success hinges on the persistent, grassroots advocacy of school nutrition professionals. Between a national debt that’s $15 trillion (and counting), a sluggish economic recovery and a major national election that will see pitched battles between incumbents and challengers, it’s not the best climate for an organization to go to Capitol Hill and ask for legislative changes that will increase federal spending. That’s why SNA’s 2012 Legislative Issue Paper focuses so heavily on strategies related to cost savings and preserving fi scal integrity in the federal school nutrition programs, with provisions to address unpaid meal charges, the collection of income data, indirect costs and management company contracts. There is, however, one area for which we are asking Congress to provide some fi nancial assistance: 10 cents per breakfast in USDA Foods (commodities) to support the School Breakfast Program (SBP). [Editors’ Note: For complete coverage of this year’s Issue Paper, including supportive talking points, see the Washington Watch column in the March 2012 issue.] Each year, the Issue Paper is developed by SNA’s Public Policy and Legislation (PPL) Committee in refl ection of concerns identifi ed by Association members, as well as legislative opportunities that present themselves based on varying societal, political, economic, regulatory and other factors. Thus, the priorities of the Issue Paper often change with the times. And yet, commodity support of the SBP has become a recurrent request; it has been a provision in the Issue Paper for eight of the last ten years, demonstrating how important this support could be to school nutrition programs and the professionals that operate them. And SNA believes that there may be no better time for Congress to seriously consider this request than now. By providing USDA Foods support to the SBP through redirected cuts in the 2012 Farm Bill, Congress could accomplish a win-win-win result. This article will detail the benefi ts of this important legislative position and offer suggestions on what School Nutrition readers can do as advocates. Leaving a GAP As reported in its School Breakfast Scorecard, released in January 2012, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) found that slightly less than half (48.2%) of low-income children who received school lunch also participated in the School Breakfast Program. This means states are “forfeiting” millions of dollars in potential funding. For example, if the school breakfast-tolunch ratio last year had reached a goal of 60:100, 2.4 million more low-income children would have been added to the breakfast program—and states would have received an additional $583 million in federal child nutrition funding, estimates FRAC. Other highlighted fi ndings follow. • Since the 2007-08 school year, when the recession began, the School Breakfast Program has grown by 18.6%, serving an additional 1.5 million low-income children. • While any school participating in the National School Lunch Program also can offer the School Breakfast Program, only 88.1% did so in 2010-11. • The 17 highest-performing states reach at least half of their eligible lowincome children with breakfast. Four states (District of Columbia, New Mexico, South Carolina and Vermont) reached the 60:100 benchmark. The two worst-performing states (Utah and Nevada) serve breakfast to fewer than 35 low-income children for every 100 eating lunch. • Twenty states each forfeited more than $10 million in federal funding by not closing the gap in the low-income participation rates between breakfast and lunch. States with larger populations left much more on the table, including California ($102 million), New York ($54 million) and Florida ($44 million). Check out the entire report, including strategies for actions and a comprehensive list of state legislation related to school meals at http://frac.org/pdf/school_break fast_scorecard_2010-2011.pdf. WHY SCHOOL BREAKFAST? First, there’s the case for school breakfast. Studies show that students who eat breakfast at school perform better academically and demonstrate better behavior in the classroom. Absenteeism and tardies drop. Standardized test scores rise; indeed, it’s not uncommon for schools to underwrite the service of universal breakfast on test days. And yet, there is a signifi cant gap between the participation rates of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the SBP. Although more than 32 million children participate in the NSLP each day, SBP participation hovers just over 12 million. While SBP participation has yet to make any signifi cant headway in closing the gap with the NSLP rate, it has risen each year. A decade ago, SBP participation was just 8.15 million. Although some social opposition to breakfast at school still exists, hostility to the program is greatly reduced, especially as the research fi ndings continue to confi rm the benefi ts. Plus, over the years, more school nutrition professionals have embraced breakfast in a new way, especially in the recognition that participation reimbursements can help to support the department’s bottom line. In short, the SBP has become a truly vital child nutrition program, supporting a district’s academic achievement goals, helping to combat hunger in a vulnerable population, especially during diffi cult economic times, and sustaining the health of the school nutrition department WHY COMMODITY SUPPORT? The USDA Foods Program offers a wide range of foods to support the goals of the 1946 National School Lunch Act to produce and serve safe and nutritious school meals while supporting American agriculture. Items are offered to schools annually and account for an estimated 15% to 20% of the foods served within the NSLP; schools currently receive 22 cents in commodities for each lunch served. USDA Foods (also known as commodities) are wholesome, safe and provided by American farms, ranches, fi sheries and dairies at lower prices made possible by economies of scale achieved through volume purchases. They frequently boast the same or better specifi cations, quality and nutrient profi les as items available to the retail and commercial foodservice markets. USDA Foods continually explores better ways to offer healthier food choices that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and anticipates continuing to increase the number of available products that will help school nutrition operations meet the new meal pattern requirements. These include more fruits and vegetables (the agency spends some $70 million to purchase more than 60 types of fresh fruits and vegetables for schools, in addition to more than $190 million in canned, frozen and dried produce items) and more whole grains (including brown rice, whole-grain pasta and wholegrain pancakes, to name a few). In addition, commodity products boast reduced sodium, sugar and fat content. And there is no better time than now for school nutrition programs to have increased access to nutritious USDA Foods at breakfast, with signifi cant nutrition changes scheduled to be implemented over the next three years. As school nutrition departments continue to face tightened budgets, the value of USDA Foods is an increasingly important asset. Every dollar’s worth of USDA Foods used in reimbursable NSLP meals represents a dollar saved in a school nutrition operation’s cash expenditures to be used toward other critical line item costs. Ten cents per reimbursable breakfast (as requested in the 2012 Issue Paper) would provide essential funding to help schools and districts to potentially expand breakfast service to additional sites or to more children through alternate service methods. And in some communities, the fi nancial support could make the difference in ensuring that districts are able to continue to provide school breakfast at all, in the face of rising food costs and new nutrition requirements. “Providing USDA commodities for the School Breakfast Program can help schools fund changes in the meal pattern and also assist farmers at the same time. It is the right time to make this change—and is a sensible approach to agriculture policy,” says former Sen. George McGovern, the respected elder statesman who continues to advocate for initiatives to address child hunger and poverty. Productive, efficient, easy-to-use food service technology? Check. District office to inventory to cafeteria? Covered. The experience and personal attention to keep it all moving like clockwork? Just ask our customers. Contact us today at 1-800-541-8999 or visit us at www.MealsPlus.com and ask about our flagship pricing. A 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that the majority of school nutrition programs participating in the National School Lunch Program agreed that USDA Foods helped stretch tight budgets. WHY NOW? Indeed, there are several reasons why this is the right time for a sensible, win-win strategy that benefi ts school nutrition programs—and the children they serve. Regulatory changes made to the nutrition standards for school meals will increase the cost of breakfast (with estimates ranging from 27 to 50 cents per meal), possibly putting this program in jeopardy in school districts. With lunch costs also expected to rise, the extra six-cent reimbursement for lunch provided in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act for schools in compliance will fall short in covering these increases, so school nutrition operations will be challenged to fi nd every fi nancial support they can to stretch their pennies. Commodity support for the NSLP makes a signifi - cant difference to the bottom lines of school meal operations, as is demonstrated in the chart above. It could become absolutely essential for many communities across the country. “School lunch has been linked with American producers through commodity support in the form of USDA Foods for quite some time,” notes William Ferriera, president of the Apricot Producers of California, and a board member for the American Commodity Distribution Association (ACDA). “With the increased emphasis on fruits and vegetables in school breakfast, it only makes sense to provide similar commodity support for breakfast.” ACDA included breakfast commodity support in its own 2012 Legislative Issue Paper. The timing of this request is opportune for American agriculture, as well. “The next Farm Bill is going to make signifi cant cuts in farm price supports,” observes Former Agriculture Secretary John Block. “It just makes sense to use a small percentage of the savings to support commodities for the School Breakfast Program.” Block notes that with more working parents and a sluggish economy, “Families need to rely on school breakfast—and the program needs USDA commodities.” The establishment of commodity support for the SBP, thus expanding the market for participants in the USDA Foods program, could help to alleviate the far-reaching consequences of such cuts. By making this request a part of the Farm Bill, it helps American children and American farmers. School nutrition programs have a longstanding relationship with the agriculture community; the addition of commodity support for breakfast can only strengthen it. Feeding children nutritious meals that will help them achieve and serve as a hunger safety net— especially during diffi cult economic times—is a bipartisan issue that both political parties in Congress have a long history of supporting. And with an upcoming national election, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are seeking win-win opportunities to break political gridlock and demonstrate collaborative progress. Breakfast commodities can be that positive success story to take home to constituents. Indeed, it’s a win-win initiative that has the support of other allies, beyond the school nutrition profession and the agriculture community. And it would be unlikely for any group to oppose the merits of such a measure; there are no stakeholders that would lose something in the outcome—everyone comes out a victor and can be viewed as a champion for children! This backing is articulated best by Sylvia Escott- Stump, RD, president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association): “Beginning in 2013, USDA nutrition standards will increase the cost of providing school breakfast to hungry children, due to increased requirements for fruits and whole grains. Commodity support for school breakfast would be a win-win-win for classroom educators, nutrition staff and agricultural producers alike. Many nutrient-rich USDA Foods can be easily incorporated into healthful breakfast recipes and menus, ensuring that all our children are well-nourished and ready to learn as they begin the school day.” In addition, supporters of this request can point to congressional precedence for the support of breakfast commodities. Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-S.D.) introduced a bill (H.R. 4638) to provide commodity support to the SBP in the 111th Congress. Now a principal attorney working alongside SNA’s Washington counsel Marshall Matz at OFW Law, Herseth-Sandlin recounts the reasons she championed the issue in Congress: “I felt introducing the Healthy Start Act was important, because research clearly shows that children who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to have better nutrition and succeed in school, which can mean fewer behavioral problems, better attendance and lower dropout rates. Especially for young children, having a complete, healthy meal in the morning is critical to early brain development.” The bill was introduced in February 2010 and gained 27 cosponsors. “Providing commodity assistance is a critical need that could help schools that wished to expand or begin a breakfast program, as well as providing additional healthy food options for children currently in the program,” Herseth-Sandlin continues. “Also, I was attracted to this approach, because this funding supports commodity purchases and therefore helps the agriculture economy.” Finally, when Congress is lobbied continually for changes and improvements that come with hefty price tags, often into the billions of dollars, this is a nominally inexpensive budget request. SNA estimates it to be $200 million a year, but anticipates that the consequential rewards to a far-reaching group of benefi ciaries more than compensate. WHAT CAN YOU DO? Most readers of School Nutrition don’t need to be convinced of the value of supporting the SBP with USDA Foods. You have fi rsthand insights into the differences that commodity support makes to your lunch menus. You know the struggles you face in expanding school breakfast service. You are very aware of the challenges that lie ahead in meeting the new meal pattern regulations. And that’s why SNA needs your help in advocating for this vital legislative priority. SNA’s public policy achievements lie in the incredible grassroots activity that is a hallmark of this organization. Year after year, you come to Washington for the annual Legislative Action Conference, helping us to break attendance records time and again. You visit with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but you also have a fantastic reputation for persistence, writing, calling, e-mailing and faxing your positions on key issues. You invite them to have a breakfast or a lunch in your cafeteria when they are home from Washington. You share your stories. You stay on message. And it works. This is the time to reach out to your representatives in the House and Senate about the importance of commod- ity support for school breakfast. This is your call to action. Let this article serve as a resource for stating your case. Gather allies on the local level, getting petition signatures or other offi cial support from your community. Both organizational support (your board of education, your PTA/PTO, churches, service agencies, vendors etc.) and individual support (teachers, principals, coaches, parents, pediatricians, etc.) can help you move this mountain! Invite your legislators back to your cafeterias, and explain there and then what more you could do if you only had the support of USDA Foods at breakfast. Work with local allies to put together a fact sheet about how breakfast has made a difference in the health and academic success of your students in this community. The stakes are high—and the timing is right. Please visit SchoolNutrition.org and click on the Legislative Action tab for periodic updates and resources on this issue. Support of the School Breakfast Program is essential to the future of our students—and the future of our country. Frank DiPasquale is SNA’s chief executive officer. Photography by Comstock, Thomas Northcut and Chad Baker/Ryan McVay/jiunlimited.com. TO LEARN MORE • Breakfast for Health, Food Research and Action Center (Fall 2011), http://frac.org • “Good Mornings,” School Nutrition (April 2012), www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazine • School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities, Food Research and Action Center (January 2012), http://frac.org • School Breakfast Scorecard, Food Research and Action Center (January 2012), http://frac.org • USDA Foods Toolkit, USDA/FNS/FDD (updated March 2012), www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/foods/healthy/Toolkit.htm • White Paper: USDA Foods in the National School Lunch Program, USDA (May 2010, updated), www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/foods/healthy/WhitePaper.pdf
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