Home-based child care providers care for more than 12 million children under the age of 13, including 6.4 million children ages 0-5. A significant portion of these children are experiencing hunger: 23% of families with young children experienced hunger in February 2022 and among lower-income families, that number climbs to a staggering 45%. Sadly, the providers caring for these children, and who are on the front lines of addressing this crisis, also experience hunger at alarming rates; one in three child care providers report experiencing hunger themselves.
Policy and practice changes are desperately needed to the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to ensure equity, accessibility, and full potential of ensuring children are fed nutritious meals without placing burden on the child care providers, who make and serve the meals and may be experiencing hunger themselves. The Keep Kids Fed Act, passed and signed into law in June 2022, took important and much-needed steps but there is an opportunity right now to do more.
A strong renewal of the Child Nutrition Act, with investments in CACFP, is an important step forward. In the U.S. House of Representatives, this year’s Child Nutrition Act legislation is called the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act. The bill addresses school breakfast and school lunch programs, summer feeding programs, WIC, and CACFP.
What is in the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act for CACFP?
The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act makes a number of key improvements for child care providers and for children in care. If passed, it would:
- Allow for an additional reimbursable meal (typically an afternoon snack or supper) for children in a full day of care (more than eight hours between the first and last meal service periods).
- Improve reimbursement rate adjustments for home-based child care providers by using the Consumer Price Index for food away from home to calculate the adjustment, helping to make sure reimbursement keeps up with the cost of providing a healthy CACFP meal.
- Improve the serious deficiency process, including making a distinction between a reasonable margin of human error and systematic or intentional noncompliance, and ensuring that the officials involved in appeals and mediation are fair and impartial. This is crucial as the current policy and practice around the serious deficiency process are harmful and need more respect and common sense.
- Establish an advisory committee to reduce administratively burdensome paperwork for parents, providers, and sponsors. The Advisory Committee is to have at least 14 members and at least one member is to be a representative of a family child care home.
- Allow automatic eligibility for benefits among children in households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This means there is less required documentation and less paperwork being passed between parents, providers, and sponsors.
- Simplify eligibility for proprietary (for-profit) child care centers by allowing annual eligibility, in alignment with other child care centers.
- Expand access to CACFP meals for youth experiencing homelessness by increasing the age limit for reimbursable meals served in emergency and homelessness shelters from 18 years to 25 years of age.
Home Grown applauds the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act and the proposed investments in CACFP. We thank Chairman Scott and Representative Bonamici for the leadership in bringing this forward.
Now that the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act has passed the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, it needs a vote of the full U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee needs to prioritize the Child Nutrition Reauthorization and prioritize making improvements to and investments in CACFP.
We are running out of time – both in terms of the Congressional calendar this year, and in terms of the real meals and snacks and the real need. We urge U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators to prioritize child care and to prioritize the Child Nutrition Act.