Chairman Roberts: Child Nutrition Re-authorization One Step Closer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today held a business meeting to consider a bill to reauthorize child nutrition programs for five years.

The legislation, “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016,” reforms and reauthorizes child nutrition programs under in the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. The Committee is expected to favorably report out the bill where it would then go to the Senate floor for a debate and a vote.

“Over the past year, I’ve consistently beaten the drum about the need to reauthorize child nutrition programs,” said Chairman Roberts. “Today, I’m pleased to be singing a new tune. We have a bipartisan agreement.”

“My goals for child nutrition reauthorization have remained the same from the start – a bipartisan package that increases efficiency, effectiveness, integrity and flexibility of these programs. I’m proud to say that those goals – and more – have been accomplished by this Committee in a manner that is also responsible to the taxpayer.”

“I am very excited that Senator Roberts was able to negotiate additional flexibility into the bill,” said Cindy Jones, Kansas School Nutrition Association Member from Olathe Public Schools in Olathe, Kan. “I was impressed with his personal desire to learn about our challenges and his commitment to making the needed changes. This flexibility will help schools prepare nutritious meals for schoolchildren across Kansas.”

To read the bill and to watch the hearing, click here.

The following is Chairman Roberts’ opening statement as prepared for delivery:

I call this meeting of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee to order.

I welcome my colleagues as we consider legislation reauthorizing the child nutrition programs – the “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act.”

Before I begin my opening statement, members should be aware that, as is customary, with business meetings, all members will have the opportunity to give five minute opening remarks.  I will speak, then our ranking member, and then we will alternate between majority and minority members in our typical hearing order.

I also note that our committee rules require a quorum to be present when voting on reporting out a bill.  Out of respect for your demanding schedules, once we have reached a quorum I will ask members to hold their opening statements so that we may vote.

Ladies and gentlemen, today is a great day.  Today, once again the American people will see their government at work addressing issues brought to the forefront by them.

When I took the gavel last year I stated that this committee would be a platform for our constituents to resolve regulatory and legislative issues they experience in their daily lives.  I want our folks back home to understand that this is their committee, not our committee.  I’m proud to say that the legislation we are considering today is the result of just the type of bottom up, bipartisan legislation that our constituents deserve.

I first thank our Ranking Member Stabenow for working with me on this legislation.  She is an outspoken and, let me assure you, most effective advocate for nutrition programs.  I thank her for her partnership in this endeavor.

I also thank each member of this Committee, on both sides, for their input and constructive engagement throughout this process.  The bill we have before us is a Committee Print, not a Chairman’s Mark, as it reflects the efforts of every member on this Committee.

The two statutes that the Committee print reauthorizes—the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966—contain critical programs of great importance for Kansas and every state; our farmers, ranchers, and growers; and our friends and neighbors that need help, including, of course, hungry children.

The school lunch program was originally created as, “a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of our nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities.”  That original statement of purpose has never been amended by any subsequent law or reauthorization, and still holds true today.

First, the programs provide a safety net for our most vulnerable populations who are at times without sufficient food.

Second, the law requires a portion of the assistance for school meal programs to be in the form of agriculture commodities, produced here in America by our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and growers.

Reauthorizing these programs is not just our duty as a Committee and Congress, but it is imperative to ensuring our nation’s security; preparing our children to be well-educated, productive contributors to a competitive economy; and providing assistance to the vulnerable among us who cannot help themselves.

We first began this process as a Committee in June of 2014, with two hearings under the leadership of Chairwoman Stabenow.  We continued the process throughout 2015, with an additional hearing and Committee roundtables to gather information from stakeholders and other members of the public.

Personally, I traveled extensively throughout Kansas visiting with school food directors and talking with parents, students, school administrators, and others involved in these programs.

All of these activities were vital in the crafting of this legislation.

This committee print strengthens the integrity of these programs through modernized and enhanced oversight.  Improving integrity is not just about fixing errors after they have been committed, but it is also about preventing errors before they occur.  With a focus on fraud and an emphasis on the use of technology and data matching, this proposal will improve accuracy and reduce error in these programs without increasing administrative burdens and reducing access.

No matter how much support a program has, such programs are unsustainable if high rates of fraud and error erode the program’s effectiveness and make it a target for critics.

The committee print also provides flexibility to school and summer food operators.  While the discussion surrounding nutrition standards has been controversial over the last several years, we have reached a compromise that provides relief (especially regarding whole-grains and sodium) and opportunities for all schools to be successful in providing nutritious meals to school children.

I thank those stakeholders, especially the School Nutrition Association, that provided input on this issue, came to the table, and negotiated a resolution. We called on folks not to draw lines in the sand or to stand on the sidelines, but to engage in respectful dialogue and debate…and they answered that call.

In the summer program – a key priority for Members on both sides of this table – the committee print strengthens the existing program and provides relief from restrictive regulation that currently limits the ability of churches, food banks, and other community organizations to operate the program in the way best suited to meet the needs at their local level.

The proposal improves the administration of these programs—through modernization, simplification, removal of outdated regulation and requirements, increased standardization of data, paperwork reduction in CACFP and the WIC program—all reforms that seek to make these programs work for stakeholders and participants.

This committee has a history of strong bipartisan support for the Child Nutrition programs. The 2004 and 2010 reauthorizations passed by unanimous consent, even though the debate leading up to those bills also included controversy, similar to the issues we faced in this process.  Yet Republicans and Democrats worked through the process together and came up with legislation that everybody could support.

We have passed through the controversy of the last several years, and because folks came together and were a part of the crafting of this legislation, we have a bipartisan proposal that improves integrity, provides flexibility, and increases efficiency while helping these programs better serve participants, stakeholders, and taxpayers.

I appreciate the support of the Committee as we move this legislation toward enactment.

I now turn to my colleague, Ranking Member Stabenow, for her opening remarks.