Marshall L. Matz and Roger Szemraj 2012-12-22 19:44:52
Welcome to 2013! Now What? A new Congress. A second-term administration. What does it all mean for SNA and its members? After one of the longest, most intense and most expensive campaigns in U.S. history, the election is over! President Obama was re-elected to a second term, winning both the electoral and the popular vote. In addition, Democrats added two seats in the Senate, which is more significant than it might sound. The Republicans continue to hold a majority in the House of Representatives, although at this writing that majority had been reduced by 17 seats, with a few additional vacancies still to be determined. And we are all thankful to have the months of relentless political advertising on television come to an end. While the political landscape doesn’t look all that different from what it was before the election, the results do signal some significant agenda changes expected for the coming months. The President is now focused on his legacy, not on re-election, and the Republicans can no longer concentrate on their previously stated declaration to prevent a second Obama term. In short, both parties are expected to focus their attention on addressing the nation’s major challenges. First up is our massive deficit and the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the term used to refer to the effect of a number of laws that could result in both major tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts if a different compromise is not reached. But that’s just one step along a long and winding road. What does it mean for SNA, the federal school nutrition programs and the children we serve? Let’s project a likely legislative forecast, as the Association begins to draft its annual Legislative Issue Paper and prep for its 41st Legislative Action Conference (LAC) in March. The Administration Some members of the President’s cabinet already have let it be known that they intend to move on, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. But at press time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was expected to provide continuity of leadership. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon and Deputy Under Secretary (and SNA Past President) Janey Thornton, PhD, SNS, are likely to remain in their positions. Tim O’Connor, the well-liked and respected Associate Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) for Special Nutrition, overseeing our programs, retired at the end of December. While the coming months may bring some new faces to USDA, SNA should be able to count on the collaborative relationship it has nurtured in recent years as more provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 go through the regulatory process. Indeed, at press time, SNA was anticipating the announcement of guidance that would provide some welcome flexibility in the implementation of the new meal pattern (see page 8). The 113th Congress There will be 13 new Senators, including five who are bringing experience honed by terms in the House of Representatives. There will be at least 84 new lawmakers in the House; nine have some previous House service, although not in the 112th Congress. And there will be a record number of women serving across Capitol Hill: 20 in the Senate and 78 in the House. The congressional redistricting process that occurs every 10 years means that some states have more members of Congress this year, while others have fewer. Certainly, many of you will have seen the boundary changes in the congressional districts in which you live and work. You are encouraged to check and see if your school or district now has a new member of Congress—or if your school district is now split across multiple congressional districts. In all, almost 200 members of the House of Representatives—nearly half—will have served just four years—or less. You will find that most haven’t even heard of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010; indeed, most have never voted on child nutrition legislation or even a farm bill. This means that you have your work cut out for you! All of these lawmakers will need to be educated, from A to Z, on school nutrition programs. They don’t know exactly what you do each and every day. They are unaware of the challenges you face and of the essential role of school meals in the overall health and welfare of the nation’s children. In addition, we can expect changes in key committee and subcommittee leadership positions; these could have a significant impact on the support of our issues. • Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who has been a long-time friend of school meal programs, was a key member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on Nutrition. (Note: The Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture has oversight of all school meal programs.) Lugar was defeated in a primary race and will no longer be a member of the Senate. • Representatives Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) and Joe Baca (D-Calif.), the chair and ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, respectively, also lost their seats in Congress and will no longer be advocating for school meals. This House Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the SNAP (Food Stamp) program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and some of the commodity assistance programs that are essential to school meal operations. • Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, has retired. A term limit prevents Representative Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chair of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, from returning. These two subcommittees are responsible for funding for all FNS programs, including school meals. SNA will rely on the grassroots efforts of its members to introduce the new Appropriations chairs to school nutrition, so they learn to appreciate the importance of your work and support the funding needed to help improve nutrition education efforts, equipment and other longstanding concerns. • And there are ongoing changes that affect other congressional allies. For example, at press time, Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), co-chair of the Congressional Hunger Center, which works to make issues of domestic and international hunger a priority among U.S. policymakers, announced that she will be leaving Congress. The Issues First and foremost, President Obama and Congress must resolve how they will respond to the fiscal cliff deadline; at press time, a deal had not been struck with only days before Congress was scheduled to recess for the rest of December. Fortunately, school nutrition programs are exempt, for the most part, from the across-the-board “sequestration” budget cuts scheduled for January 2, 2013 (if no resolution is reached). But this ongoing debate is only the first problem on a long agenda that can have a definite impact on the future of school meals. Addressing the federal budget problem will take multiple steps. For example, in February, Congress must decide whether to make another increase in the federal debt ceiling. The President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2014 will be submitted to Congress in February, as well. And funding for the entire federal government must be extended beyond the current March 27, 2013 deadline. In short, both the Administration and Congress will be investing a great deal of time, effort and scrutiny to get the federal fiscal house in order. SNA’s legislative team—with the help of individual members and allies—must be prepared to explain and justify the continuation of our programs and their “entitlement” structure, while recognizing that there will be pressures to improve program administration. The federal child nutrition programs have relied on the continuity of their “entitlement” status since the National School Lunch Program was enacted in 1946. If entitlement status were to be terminated in favor of a block grant approach (as was suggested by supporters of the Contract with America in the Nineties), this reliability of financial support would come to an end. Much of the action on Capitol Hill and at USDA that is expected to have an impact on school meals will coincide with SNA’s LAC, March 3-6, 2013. As this magazine goes to press, SNA’s Public Policy & Legislation (PPL) Committee is working to develop the 2013 Legislative Issue Paper and ensure that it reflects the most current concerns facing school nutrition operators and industry partners, such as the anticipated proposed rule outlining nutrition standards for competitive foods served on school grounds. School nutrition professionals have never been shy about sharing the challenges you face with your representatives in Congress and the Administration. With the 2012 election now in the history books, 2013 offers all of us the opportunity to do it once again. We hope to see many of you at the 2013 LAC in March. Marshall Matz is SNA’s Washington counsel and a partner at Olson Frank Weeda PC (OFW), in Washington D.C. Roger Szemraj is counsel for OFW.
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