House Republicans Deride ‘Massive And Costly’ Federal Investment In School Meals

Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education wrapped up its work last week with a hearing on “Examining the Costs of Federal Overreach into School Meals.” The Subcommittee shortsightedly concluded that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which was signed into law late in 2010, “raises costs…and may also lead to wasted food and fewer children served.” Exactly how much of a financial impact does it have? One of the hearing’s witnesses said the following:

The impact of the proposed rule will at a minimum be $78,774 for my department which in terms of education budgets is equal to a teacher’s salary in the surrounding area…The proposed rule is essentially an unfunded mandate, which will harm my program.

Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) derided the 2010 law, saying, “the previous Democrat Majority pursued a massive and costly expansion of the federal government’s role in child nutrition.” But the hearing conveniently omitted the real price of poor health across the nation. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act aims to curb escalating obesity rates, which cost the nation a hefty $147 billion per year in direct medical costs. In Hunter’s (CA) home state, the annual cost of diabetes is estimated to be $24 billion, and the cost of obesity is $21 billion.

Child nutrition is also a good investment because it is critical for student success in school. At a time when most states are facing budget challenges and need resources to serve students and families with the greatest need, effective hunger prevention and student nutrition programs ensure that students are ready to learn and are not stymied by hunger. Schools are ideal locations for social services like healthy meals because they have unparalleled access to low-income students and their families — they are located in the neighborhoods in which families live, are recognized and familiar community institutions, and have established relationships with students.

The Subcommittee is concerned that “the cost of a school breakfast may increase by more than 25 cents, [and the] cost of a school lunch will have increased by more than 7 cents,” but Congress has bigger challenges to tackle right now. We need our representatives to get the message and stop wasting a significant amount of time fighting against a good investment in child nutrition legislation.