Obama to propose ambitious summer meals program | TSLN.com

Obama to propose ambitious summer meals program

In his fiscal year 2017 budget, President Barack Obama will propose a summer meals program that is much more ambitious than the one that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have proposed in their bill to reauthorize child nutrition programs.

The Obama proposal, announced today as the White House convened a conference on childhood hunger, would eventually allow all children who receive free and reduced school meals — currently 22 million of the 31 million children who eat school meals — to get free food in the summer.

The administration would create "a permanent Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) to provide supplemental food benefits during the summer months for all families with children eligible for free and reduced price school meals," the White House said in a fact sheet.

Summer EBT would cost $12 billion over 10 years, the fact sheet said, but it provided few other details.

The White House did not say whether any other other programs would be cut to pay for the Summer EBT program, but White House budgets are so big that cuts throughout the government are used to finance new programs that presidents propose.

The Senate bill uses efficiencies through technology and tweaks to other nutrition programs to pay for a bigger summer feeding program.

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The administration is trying to address the fact that only 3.8 million children now get government-sponsored summer meals, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted at the White House Convening on Child Hunger.

"Low-income children are at higher risk of food insecurity and poor nutrition during the summer," the White House said.

"Summer EBT, which provides benefits on an electronic debit card that can only be used for food at the grocery store, fills the food budget gap in the summer; rigorous evaluations of USDA pilots of Summer EBT programs have found that they can significantly reduce food insecurity among children and improve their diet."

The Senate bill to reauthorize child nutrition programs introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., includes an expansion of the current summer meals program.

Obama administration officials have praised the Senate child nutrition bill, which the Senate Agriculture Committee approved by unanimous voice vote.

But it is unclear how these two proposals would work together. A spokeswoman for Roberts said today, "The White House has not given us legislative language on their proposal. The president may propose any number of things in his budget request, but it is up to Congress to write legislation and appropriate funds."

The Senate bill would make it easier for local groups to run feeding programs at sites where children go to get meals, but the White House fact sheet was silent on the future of congregate feeding sites.

The Senate bill would also include an EBT program, but it would serve only 285,000 children. The benefit level would be $30 per month per child.

Vilsack said today that the Obama administration will propose a benefit level of $45 month and aims to start the program with a million children.

The Senate bill's summer EBT program would allow people to buy food within the food package of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

But the White House did not say whether its proposed EBT program would limit purchases to WIC foods or allow purchases of any foods, as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps, does.

The Agriculture Department has conducted the summer EBT pilot projects, using both the WIC and SNAP purchasing models. Parke Wilde, an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, said during the White House conference today that there is evidence that the WIC model resulted in slightly more purchases of fruits and vegetables.

The White House also said that the Agriculture Department will announce a new initiative to allow state agencies that administer the National School Lunch Program to use Medicaid data to certify students for free and reduced priced lunches.

"This will link eligible children to nutritious school meals with less paperwork for the state, schools and families alike," the White House said.

"Interested states are invited to submit applications and USDA expects to approve approximately five states to begin the demonstrations during the upcoming school year (2016-2017), with additional states implementing the pilot in the subsequent years. USDA is committed to helping 20 states take up this pilot and begin implementing direct certification using Medicaid data over the next three school years."

–The Hagstrom Report

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