By Wendy Weyer, SNS 2014-03-27 09:37:24
Teach One, Reach One Educating our national lawmakers is an essential step toward a positive Reauthorization outcome! And we’re off! We’ve officially begun our journey on the road to the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. It is sure to be a long trip, and it’s likely that there will be a number of curving switchbacks and steep hills ahead. We might experience a flat tire or two, and there will be occasions where we will feel like we’re running on fumes until we get to the next fueling station. But there’s not just one person bearing the burden of all the driving. There’s a group of us taking the lead on this trip together; at various points, we’ll trade places at the wheel, taking turns driving and navigating. And it’s not a lonely road, either. By the time we reach our destination, I expect that we’ll be joined by a large caravan of friends and supporters. So, where exactly are we right now? What’s the next mile marker ahead? And what do we need to do to keep chugging along? Let’s take a closer look. Take the Driver’s Seat Last month, nearly 900 school nutrition operators, industry partners and child nutrition advocates gathered in Washington, D.C., to attend SNA’s 42nd Legislative Action Conference (LAC) and set the table (to mix metaphors for a moment) for the upcoming Reauthorization process. Years ago, registration for this annual meeting would fluctuate, falling off dramatically during “non-Reauthorization” years. But over the last decade, our registration numbers have remain consistently at record levels year after year. I believe this is because so many of us now realize that achieving our legislative goals requires an ongoing commitment to share our stories not once every five years, but again and again. Educating our national representatives in the House and Senate takes time and persistence. There are so many competing priorities for Congressional attention—and more disparate philosophies on the role of government—than ever before. We can’t visit Capitol Hill only once every four or five years and simply expect to find support for our priorities based solely on the strength of the message, no matter how compelling we know it to be. We need to keep coming to Washington, as a large vocal group, even when there is no specific piece of legislation under consideration. And so we do—900 strong in 2014. SNA’s legislative team asked LAC attendees to take SNA’s 2014 Position Paper on Federal Child Nutrition Programs on their visits to the corridors of the Capitol and the House and Senate office buildings. The Position Paper features nine areas of concern, divided into three sections: ➤ Provide meal pattern flexibility by • retaining, rather than increasing, the 50% whole-grain requirement; •suspending the implementation of sodium Target 2, pending the availability of more scientific research; and • removing the requirement that all students must select a half-cup serving of a fruit or vegetable as a reimbursable meal. ➤ Address competitive foods by reopening and extending the comment period on the “Smart Snacks in School” interim Final Rule. ➤ Strengthen school meal programs by • encouraging a clear and coordinated strategy between the federal departments of agriculture and education in order to achieve a school environment that supports student health, well-being and academic success; • returning to the five-year administrative cycle; • addressing the problem of unpaid meal charges; • increasing program simplification; and • providing flexibility on Paid Meal Equity. I encourage you to read the full text of the Position Paper and the accompanying talking points. You can find these on SchoolNutrition.org, and in the March 2014 issue of this magazine. I am always so impressed by the organization and focus of SNA’s state delegations as they prepare to “charge” the Hill. They are ready to divide and conquer, making appointments to visit with their two senators and each of the representatives serving their state. After the meetings, whether with the lawmaker or with a staff member, they submit a feedback report to SNA. At press time, we’d received reports from nearly 475 visits! Of the total 535 members of the House and Senate, this is simply incredible, and really speaks to the value and commitment of SNA’s storied grassroots advocacy. These feedback reports are so helpful, because they give our legislative team valuable insight in knowing where to direct future efforts. For example, if a top member of the House Education and Workforce Committee or the Senate Agriculture Committee already supports key areas of our Position Paper, then we know we can spend more education time with a legislator who’s somewhat on the fence. The feedback reports indicated whether a legislator (or his or her staff member) indicate “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” for the different positions of this year’s Paper. In addition, state delegations were able to provide clarifying details. For example, the Vermont team reported that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), a long-time supporter of SNA’s positions, offered to help facilitate conversations with USDA and the Pennsylvania team told us that Rep. Matthew Cartwright’s (D) office shared that local school board members had expressed similar concerns about some of our positions. A New York delegation visiting Rep. Grace Meng (D) was informed that her vote on any of our issues would be based on funding. An aide to Tennessee Rep. Diane Black (R) requested that SNA contact the office to discuss issues in greater depth. The team visiting Nebraska’s Adrian Smith (R) learned that he knew all “lunch ladies in his town by name” and “would contact us during Reauthorization.” Plotting a Course I’m sure you can see how such reports are gold in moving our efforts forward. While we have a fantastic team representing us in Washington, D.C., SNA Staff Vice President of Child Nutrition and Policy Cathy Schuchart and the attorneys at of our new Washington counsel Barnes & Thornburg can’t possibly make all those critical connections on their own. But they are trying! Since last fall, Cathy, Craig Burkhardt, Richard Boykin and several other B&T associates have been paying quite a few calls on Capitol Hill, too. In November, they did 24 visits over a span of three busy days! Most of these visits have been very positive, although legislators conceded that Child Nutrition Reauthorization 2015 really hasn’t been on their radars just yet. And between announced retirements and some likely tough contests expected for the midterm elections coming up in November, we know that there will be quite a number of brand-new legislators who will need a school nutrition primer come next January. It’s a never-ending education process! Miles Traveled, Miles Still To Go Did you come to LAC this year? If so, thank you. I appreciate your dedication and efforts. Several inches of snow that fell in our nation’s capital right in the middle of LAC may have complicated your mission, but it’s clear to me just how much you triumphed over that particular adversity! I also hope you found it an informative event—look for a brief recap and pictures in the May issue of School Nutrition. Even if you’ve never attended LAC, each SNA member has an important role to play in moving us forward on the road to Reauthorization this year. U.S. Senators and Representatives in Washington come from your home towns. They are sent to Washington to serve you. And they come home regularly to touch base and find out how they are doing in meeting their mission. These visits back home are a fantastic opportunity for you to continue SNA’s grassroots advocacy—and keep the momentum that was started at LAC. Pay attention to when lawmakers return to their states and districts. Invite them to your school cafeteria for a school meal and a chance to see your challenges—and your achievements—in person. SNA offers an online toolkit to help you plan these cafeteria site visits; visit SchoolNutrition.org, click on the Legislative Action tab and scroll down to the Grassroots section. I also encourage you to attend campaign events and start asking about the positions of both incumbents and challengers. The more people who hear our positions and “get” where we are coming from today, the higher the likelihood that we will get favorable bipartisan legislation when we arrive at our Reauthorization destination. SNA needs your help. The leadership and staff cannot make the kinds of changes we all envision for our programs without being supported by your voices. In the coming months, we have a lot of “teaching” to do in order to reach new allies. Speak up and tell your stories—no one else does it better. Wendy Weyer is chair of SNA’s Public Policy & Legislation Committee.
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