WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, from the hearing entitled Child Nutrition Reauthorization: Healthy Meals and Healthy Futures:
Thank you Chairwoman Stabenow for convening today’s hearing. I want to thank all of our witnesses for their time and testimony today.
I also want to thank you for the incredible work you have done over the past year during the pandemic.
Your organizations are made up of the heroes who are on the frontline every day ensuring children receive the food they need to grow and thrive.
Your innovation, tenacity, and the commitment to ensuring those in need have access to food is truly amazing and I commend you.
I look forward to working with Chairwoman Stabenow and the other members of the Committee to produce a bipartisan child nutrition bill this year.
I have been a co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus for a number of years, so it is a priority of mine to see a child nutrition reauthorization bill cross the finish line.
This hearing is the beginning of the process and it’s critical that we listen to those of you who are operating the programs to understand the lessons you have learned during the pandemic, and to know what is working and where there may be challenges.
Many times things look good on paper but when you put them into practice, reality demonstrates a different story.
We need your feedback so that government is helping you with your mission, not getting in the way.
It has been over 10 years since the last child nutrition reauthorization, and without a doubt, some of the programs need to be modernized. There are many advances in technology that we should be considering for the WIC community.
I hope to hear more about telehealth, online purchasing of food items, and other opportunities to move WIC into the 21st century.
We also know that there are changes needed in the Summer Food Service Program, an issue I have been working on for a few years.
The Summer Food Service Program needs to be modernized to include flexibility in the congregate meals requirement to better ensure that our nation’s children are getting the nutrition they need to succeed.
Twenty-two million children receive free or reduced-priced healthy meals during the school year through federal programs, but five out of six of these children are missing meals during the summer.
The Summer Food Service Program is hamstrung by rules that dictate a one-size-fits-all solution—requiring children to travel to a central location and eat their meals together.
However, more than 14 million low-income children across the country live in communities that are ineligible to operate an open summer meals site.
In communities where there are sites, access is far from easy. Lack of transportation and extreme weather often keep children from sites.
In rural areas, where roughly three million low-income children live, the closest site may be several miles away.
The pandemic has heightened the need for increased flexibility so that all options are on the table from off-site, grab-and-go models, to home delivery, to Summer EBT.
I am also aware of the need for more streamlining across the child nutrition programs, and between WIC clinics and health care professionals.
When we streamline and reduce paperwork and duplication, it simplifies the process for everyone involved—so I hope to hear some thoughts on this today.
Finally, I continue to hear concerns about the school meals nutrition standards – in particular, the standards for milk, sodium and whole grains.
The Arkansas School Nutrition Association recently described to me the challenges they continue to face with these standards.
When schools are facing financial strain and doing their best to feed children during the pandemic, I find it alarming that schools would also be required to implement strict nutrition standards for which product is not available.
This is a concern that needs to be addressed in the short term, but it is equally important to find a long term solution to give schools certainty.
School nutrition professionals feed kids healthy, nutritious meals each school day. I trust them to know their students and what will work in their schools to ensure we are feeding children and not trash cans.
We know the healthiest option for many students is to eat school meals. Our programs should help empower schools to serve kids, rather than create a wedge that further decreases participation and increases stigma.
Again, I want to thank all of you for your heroic efforts this past year. As we move forward, I am committed to crafting a bipartisan bill.
I sincerely hope this will remain a bipartisan process and the Committee can work its will in the months ahead. We will have a better product if we are all at the table working together.
Thank you for being here and I look forward to today’s discussion.