At Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Child Nutrition Experts Urge Action to Improve Child Health and Curb Hunger

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, held a hearing to discuss the child health and hunger crisis as the Committee begins its work on legislation to provide healthy food to children in need in the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

“All parents want to see their children grow up to lead healthy and successful lives. One of the best ways to do that starts with the food on their plates. When those plates are empty, it’s a crisis for that child, for that family, and for our country,” Chairwoman Stabenow said in her opening statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the dual challenge of obesity and hunger.

“It’s been over 10 years since Congress last made improvements to our critical child nutrition programs. With all the challenges we face, it’s time to take action on a bipartisan basis. Feeding kids is not and should not be a partisan issue. I look forward to passing a strong, bipartisan child nutrition bill that helps our kids get healthier – not hungrier.”

Read and watch Chairwoman Stabenow’s full opening statement. 

Chairwoman Stabenow has led the effort in the U.S. Senate to address the hunger crisis and feed children in need. In the American Rescue Plan and other COVID-19 assistance packages, she secured several important changes to expand food assistance to families facing hunger. She helped create the Pandemic-EBT program to allow families with children receiving school meals to more easily purchase healthy food during the pandemic. She also partnered with superintendents to successfully extend flexibilities to help schools provide healthy meals to kids while schools were closed due to COVID-19.

The Committee heard testimony from leading experts in child health and nutrition. The witnesses stressed the importance of federal investments to feed children in and out of school and connect them with nutritious food: 

Dr. Lee Savio Beers, President, American Academy of Pediatrics: "Federal nutrition programs are a critical protection against the adverse health effects of food insecurity in children. Pediatricians know the value of federal nutrition programs and routinely connect our patients to these programs. … As more families are left unable to afford healthy, nutritious meals at home, the importance of healthy school meals has taken on new urgency. Good nutrition is essential to health, and good health is essential to effective learning.”

Mr. Reynaldo Green, Vice-President, Nutrition and Family Well-Being, Quality Care for Children: “The healthy food provided by the Child and Adult Care Food Program makes a substantial contribution towards meeting the nutritional needs of children in child care, particularly low-income children. … Food insecurity, poor nutrition and overweight and obesity disproportionately affects low-income children both before and during COVID-19. Existing inequities have been exacerbated by COVID-19 – one in five families with children and one in four Black and Latino families with children have experienced food insecurity.”

Ms. Jessica Gould, Director, Nutrition Services, Littleton, CO Public Schools: “When the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act became law, child nutrition operators were excited and anxious because we agreed with many of the changes for our program and we had many challenges ahead of us. I am excited to share that our students finally understand that fruit and vegetables make a meal and students are enjoying and eating the options that we are providing.”

Dr. Diane Golzynski, Director, Office of Health and Nutrition Services, Michigan Department of Education: "One of the most critical pieces of our educational system are the meals available to students during the school day. Children should not have to shoulder the burden of wondering if they are going to be able to eat at school. As the adults who are responsible for those children, we must provide every tool available to us to safeguard their future success, including nutritious meals. … We can make healthy meals that are delicious! It does not have to be either/or.”

Ms. Heidi M. Hoffman, Director, Colorado State WIC, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment: “WIC is a targeted, time-limited program that addresses specific nutrient concerns; even still, the WIC benefit is effective at reducing child food insecurity by as much as 20 percent. … For every dollar invested, WIC returns at least $2.48 in medical, education, and productivity costs.”

Mr. Carlos Rodriguez, President and CEO, Community FoodBank of New Jersey: “Right now, more children than ever are going to bed with empty bellies. … Many people who have been most impacted by the pandemic were food insecure or at risk of food insecurity before COVID-19 and are facing greater hardship since COVID-19. … The reauthorization of child nutrition programs provides the important opportunity to make good programs even better though policy updates that will improve access to quality child nutrition programs and ensure no child goes hungry.”