In this issue:
● Funding for Emergency Food to be Reduced
● Authorization Delay Pays for Child Nutrition Expansions
● Proposed Legislation
● Major Changes Recommended for School Meals
● Variety of Foods to be Available for Commodity Programs
● Food Policy Councils Aid Local Planning and Action
● Funding Opportunities
● Reports from the Field – Washington, D.C.
● Small Bites
Foodlinks America is published 24 times a year by California Emergency Foodlink in Sacramento, CA and distributed by Weinberg & Vauthier Consulting, 122 South Main Street, No. 9, Burnet, TX 78611; Zy Weinberg and Barbara Vauthier, Editors; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Funding for Emergency Food to be Reduced
Due to an economic aberration, mandatory funding for food purchases under The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), is expected to decrease by some $2 million next year, at the same time that food relief organizations are scraping together all the resources they can to feed unprecedented numbers of hungry Americans.
TEFAP supporters were pleased when mandatory food purchases were increased from $140 million a year to $250 million a year in the 2008 Farm Bill. Food price inflation seemed rampant at the time and hitching the TEFAP food funds to inflation adjustments for the Thrifty Food Plan under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps portended sizeable annual increases.
Unfortunately, the recession and the collapse of global economic markets have caused food prices to shrink and the SNAP, and consequently TEFAP, price adjustment index is a negative number. The result: TEFAP is now expected to receive $248 million for mandatory food purchases in fiscal year 2010 rather than $250 million or more.
The news is brighter for the distribution side of TEFAP, however. Appropriated funds for storage and transportation – also known as “administrative” funding – will include the regular $49.5 million received annually over the past few years plus $25 million allocated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) or stimulus legislation enacted in early 2009. The ARRA provided a $150 million boost for TEFAP, which was broken down into $100 million for more commodities, which were bought and distributed last year, and $50 million for distribution, half of it to be spent in fiscal 2009 and half of it to be spent in fiscal 2010. Though the funds are approved, USDA has yet to release the fiscal 2010 funds to states.
The maximum authorized level for TEFAP distribution funds is $100 million a year, though actual appropriations have never reached more than half that amount. Advocates will be organizing to secure the full authorization for fiscal year 2011, especially in the absence of additional stimulus funds.
Authorization Delay Pays for Child Nutrition Expansions
In a rare move, Congress has used a one-year extension of child nutrition programs as a down payment on future program enhancements. Two thousand nine was to be the year that key programs under the Child Nutrition Act – school lunch, school breakfast, WIC, child care feeding and more – would be reauthorized. But then came the ongoing debate over health care that pushed other congressional business aside and child nutrition reauthorization was side-tracked until 2010.
The delay, until September 30, 2010, was written into the fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill that passed earlier this month. As part of that package, House Education and Labor Committee chair George Miller (D-CA) and newly-installed Senate Agriculture Committee chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) jointly developed a $150 million set of child nutrition “investments” with savings from temporary extensions of expiring provisions.
Included in the legislative mix are:
• $85 million to improve children’s access to meals during the summer;
• $25 million to help schools purchase cafeteria equipment;
• $25 million to help automatically enroll children in the School Lunch Program;
• $8 million in grants to improve health and nutrition in child care settings; and
• $5 million in performance bonuses for increasing WIC agencies’ breastfeeding rates.
“I am pleased the bill included onetime spending initiatives that will provide an outstanding opportunity for children of all ages to have better access to healthier food,” said Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), chair of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities. “Although there is no silver bullet to fighting obesity, I am proud that our bill provides support to outstanding WIC breastfeeding programs . . . and I believe we must do everything we can to support mothers who are breastfeeding.”
Though the extension was made for the entire fiscal year, congressional leaders have pledged to tackle child nutrition reauthorization within the next six months, with plans to complete action before fiscal year 2011 budget decisions are made, in order to fund additional proposed expansions.
Among bills recently introduced in the 111th session of the U.S. Congress are the following:
House Resolution (H.R.) 3625: Introduced by Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and two co-sponsors, the Food Marketing in Schools Assessment Act would provide for the Secretary of Education to study and report on the marketing of foods and beverages in elementary and secondary schools.
H.R. 3705: Introduced by Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) and five co-sponsors, the Expand School Meals Act would increase the number of children eligible for free school meals.
Senate (S.) 1693: Introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), this bill would require the Secretary of Agriculture to ensure the safety of school meals by enhancing coordination with States and schools operating school meal programs in the case of a recall of contaminated food.
S. 1737: Introduced by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and two bipartisan co-sponsors, this legislation would increase the number of children eligible for free school meals, with a phased-in transition period, by raising the eligibility level to 172 percent of poverty guidelines by July 1, 2012.
For bill summary and status information, along with the text of legislation, visit: http://thomas.loc.gov/ and enter the bill number.
Major Changes Recommended for School Meals
A prestigious national committee has proposed revision of nutrition standards for the school lunch and breakfast programs in a move that could affect the way more than 30 million American children eat. A special panel of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, on October 20, 2009, with recommendations that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) adopt standards for menu planning that include:
* Increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains;
* Setting a minimum and maximum level of calories; and
* Focusing more on reducing saturated fat and sodium.
Reactions to the report were positive, but it was generally acknowledged that implementing the recommendations will take considerable time and money. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) in Washington, D.C. applauded the “long-overdue overhaul of school meal standards,” but cautioned that they must be “accompanied by efforts to expand student participation” and “must not reduce access.”
USDA, for its part, said it will begin working to turn the suggested improvements into law. “Experts at USDA are engaged in a thorough review of the IOM recommendations and will develop a proposed rule to determine the best ways to improve the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program based on IOM’s final report,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
School food service directors, though, were more pragmatic. “School nutrition programs, long under-funded and pressured by rising costs, will need more than just ‘Building Blocks’ to improve on our success,” said Dora Rivas of Dallas, TX, president of the School Nutrition Association. “Congress needs to provide the mortar through higher federal reimbursement rates for school meals,” she stated.
To view the IOM report, go to: http://www.iom.edu/en/Reports/2009/School-Meals-Building-Blocks-for-Healthy-Children.aspx.
Variety of Foods to be Available for Commodity Programs
From ham to hominy and peaches to peanut butter, the fiscal 2010 shopping list of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) catalogues dozens of items the federal government will purchase to provide nutrition assistance to low-income Americans. USDA has published lists of foods available this year for The Emergency Food Assistance program (TEFAP), Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CFSP), and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
The commodity programs offer fruits, vegetables, juice, meats, beans, cereals, and grains. A total of 84 items are listed for TEFAP, 59 are available in the CSFP – including reduced fat cheese and powdered instant formula – and 44 in the FDPIR. New foods being offered this year are raisins and dried plums.
USDA utilizes surplus removal and price support programs to purchase “bonus” commodities that are in significant supply. Bonus items purchased thus far for fiscal year 2010 include: walnuts, blueberries, pork roast, ham, turkey, reduced fat cheese, and ultra high temperature (UHT) milk.
For additional information, find listings of TEFAP, CSFP, and FDPIR foods at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/fns/default.htm and choose the Food Distribution program desired.
Food Policy Councils Aid Local Planning and Action
Over the past 30 years, one of the most successful methods for bringing about change in the food system has been the creation and operation of food policy councils (FPCs). FPCs offer an opportunity to pull together a variety of stakeholders from various sectors of the food system to examine policy at the local, regional, or state level. It is estimated that there are currently more than 100 FPCs in existence in the U.S. and North America.
Leaders of the FPC movement convened a national meeting, “From People Power to Public Policy: A Gathering of Local and State Food Policy Councils” in Des Moines, IA on October 10, 2009. Topics discussed included: economics and food policy; land use and planning; public health; food marketing and purchasing; and community participation and food democracy.
“Food Policy Councils act as both a forum for food issues and a platform for coordinated action,” noted Food First, an Oakland, CA-based non-profit institute that is completing a nationwide review of FPCs. FPCs can effectively engage in “issue management” for fringe issues like green roofs, and then pass on the initiative to another organization, Cynthia Torres of the Boulder County Food and Agricultural Policy Council in Boulder, CO, told the group. The City of San Francisco now has a comprehensive, mandatory composting law. Woodbury County in Northwest Iowa offers tax incentives for farmers to convert from conventional agriculture to organic growing.
FPCs have been created by local ordinance in a city or town, by Executive Order of a state governor, and by independent non-governmental organizations or coalitions. Membership is usually multi-disciplinary, taking in government, the charitable sector, commercial interests, and other traditionally uncommon partners. In short, FPCs are ‘“a coalition of the willing;’ those who want to solve the problem,” said Wayne Roberts of the Toronto FPC.
Bolstering community food: The primary goals of Community Food Projects (CFP) are
to: meet the food needs of low-income individuals; increase the self-reliance of communities in providing for their own food needs; promote comprehensive responses to local food, farm, and nutrition issues; and meet specific State, local or neighborhood food and agricultural needs. Up to $5 million is available to non-profit entities for regular CFPs and Planning Projects. Applications are due November 19, 2009. To learn more go to: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/funding/rfas/community_food.html.
Stimulating disease prevention: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has committed $373 million in competitive funds to support a public health initiative, “Communities Putting Prevention to Work,” to promote wellness and reduce risk factors for chronic diseases. The funding derives from the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. One category of funding is earmarked for obesity, physical activity, and nutrition projects. Eligible applicants are large cities, urban areas, Indian Tribes, and small city and rural entities. The application deadline is December 1, 2009. Find details at: http://www.hhs.gov/recovery/.
Reports from the Field – Washington, D.C.
Lots of people want to see healthier, tastier, and fresher food in schools, but few are doing something about it. Revolution Foods is an exception, as the following article by Jane Black from The Washington Post of September 30, 2009, details:
Here’s what everyone agrees on: Too many kids are fat. The food they get at school, which provides 35 percent of most schoolchildren’s calories, is not nutritious enough and tastes lousy, to boot. And there’s not enough money to change this unwholesome picture.
So here’s the question: How much will it cost to fix school lunch?
Congress will seek the answer this fall [although consideration will likely be postponed until next spring – see article above on authorization delay] as it budgets for childhood nutrition programs, which include about $12 billion annually for school meals. There is no lack of proposals. The non-profit School Nutrition Association is asking for a 35-cent-per-lunch increase in the federal reimbursement rate, which now stands at $2.68. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wants a 70-cent raise. Berkeley, Calif., chef and local-food pioneer Alice Waters is lobbying to bring the total to $5 per student. The administration, too, supports improving school food, at least rhetorically: President Obama has proposed an additional $1 billion for child nutrition programs, including school lunch, in his 2010 budget. Michelle Obama is promoting healthful eating as a signature issue.
But with a projected $1.6 trillion federal deficit in 2009, even the strongest supporters of school lunch reform privately concede a substantial increase is unlikely to pass. That means no extra money to rebuild school kitchens, to train cafeteria workers or to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables. Progressive food service directors will continue to add leaner menu items and salad bars. But on the whole, traditional school lunch, that culinary gantlet of tater tots and greasy pizza, appears here to stay.
Or does it?
Oakland, Calif.-based Revolution Foods thinks it might have a solution. The four-year-old company turns out thousands of made-from-scratch meals – such as roasted chicken with yams, beans, a locally grown peach and a carton of milk – that meet all Department of Agriculture nutrition standards. It shuns high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats and includes only hormone- and antibiotic-free milk and meat and all-natural ingredients. The price, between $2.90 and $3 per lunch, is not much higher than the current $2.68 the government pays.
To date, more than 250 schools in California, Colorado and, beginning this year, the District have signed on. Public health advocates and lawmakers are watching closely to see whether the model can work.
Hiring Revolution Foods for the 2009 school year was a financial stretch at the KIPP LEAP Academy, a charter school in Southeast Washington. To cover the gap between what the federal government pays and what Revolution Foods charges, the school had to secure a $25,000 grant. But the school already had been struggling to make ends meet on its school lunch program, said Irene Holtzman, the director of student data and accountability for KIPP DC. About 80 percent of students at KIPP DC’s seven schools qualify for a free or reduced-price school lunch. Providing a tasty school meal can increase attendance, boost student focus and, especially among younger children, improve lifelong nutritional habits, Holtzman said: “It’s a testament to how important [food] is to schools in general that they’re even willing to consider it. In general, when you ask a school about something that’s a money loser, the answer is no.”
Revolution Foods’ lunches went down reasonably well on KIPP LEAP’s first day of school. Nineteen of 23 kindergarteners in Liz Olson’s class sat down to a meal of cheese tortellini, carrots, milk, a whole-wheat roll and a nectarine. The students were flummoxed by the un-fuzzy peach. And most preferred the tortellini to the carrots; “it tastes different,” said Jada Hillard, who was persuaded to try one carrot but refused to eat any more.
The food “is quite different than before,” said Olson, who had tasted Revolution Foods’ meals during summer school. “None of the vegetables are frozen, and there’s a wider variety of what they get to eat. Before, you could visibly see the grease on the entrees; now you don’t.”
Founders Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey conceived Revolution Foods when they were students at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. In spring 2006, the pair launched their first pilot program at an Oakland, Calif., school. By year’s end, the new company was serving 10 schools. “We heard all the reasons why it couldn’t be done: Kids won’t eat healthy food. It’s too expensive,” said Richmond, 34. “But it was clear demand was there.”
The key question was how to meet that demand at a price the schools could afford. Revolution Foods serves a network of charter and private schools, which, like KIPP LEAP, sometimes can tap extra funds. But the company’s mission is to serve public schools in low-income areas as well. The all-natural cheeses, hormone-free milk and organic produce used by Revolution Foods are more expensive than the ingredients in an average school lunch.
One answer to capping costs is Revolution Foods’ partnerships with food suppliers. The company has cut deals with purveyors such as grocer Whole Foods Market, dairy Clover Stornetta Farms and, here in the mid-Atlantic, Uptown Bakery in Hyattsville and sauce and soup maker Chesapeake Gardens in Glen Burnie, Md. To support their mission, Richmond says, partner companies offer a discount of 5 to 8 percent off typical wholesale prices. Revolution Foods also has negotiated extended payment terms with most vendors, a boon when working with cash-strapped schools.
Revolution Foods also saves money by making most of its meals from scratch. The company’s first prep kitchen was a retrofitted McDonald’s on a naval base in Alameda, Calif. It now has four commissaries that produce 40,000 meals a day. In Washington, the company has outgrown its Silver Spring kitchen and plans to move to a 20,000-square-foot space in Northeast Washington to service its 25 local charter and private schools. “The conventional wisdom says that if you buy packaged goods, you save money,” Richmond said. “But by putting the work in and buying fresh broccoli, rather than chopped and bagged, we’re able to save a lot of money.”
Some are still skeptical about whether the Revolution Foods model can work in the country’s largest and poorest school districts. Tony Geraci, the director of food service at the Baltimore City Public Schools and a pioneer for healthful, local foods in schools, says Revolution Foods is right to buy wholesome ingredients and cook meals from scratch in regional commissaries. But he worries that the company will be unable to bring costs down enough or take on school bureaucracies.
“I think for the market segment they’re chasing, it’s obtainable,” Geraci said. “Charter schools have a different mind-set. They understand the connection between nutrition and education, so they may be willing to pony up the extra money.”
Indeed, prospects are dim for a substantial increase to the federal reimbursement rate. “The president asked for $1 billion,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. “But he can’t be knocking on [Montana Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chairman] Max Baucus’s door asking for it when he’s asking for $1 trillion for health care. I don’t think we’ll end up with it being based on what’s needed. It will be more like, here’s the pot we have, so how much can we put towards reimbursement?”
Without more federal funds, Geraci says, public schools will have to settle for incremental, if important, change. This year, Geraci is implementing meatless Mondays to improve nutrition – and the bottom line. Fairfax County Public Schools offers a choice of two salads each day: a chef’s salad with tuna, for example, or fruit salad served with yogurt and a pretzel. Last month, Whole Foods Market partnered with school lunch crusader Ann Cooper to launch a Web site called the Lunch Box (http://www.thelunchbox.org) that offers menus, recipes and technical tools for budget planning to help schools wean themselves from packaged and processed foods.
Richmond says Revolution Foods’ model can work. So far, in the Washington area the company is working only with charter and private schools. But it does serve 15 public school districts in California. Some, such as the Los Gatos Union district, are affluent. Others are not: Roseland, in Sonoma County, serves a population in which 81 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Revolution Foods will help schools raise money to bridge the financial gap, Richmond said. In some cases, paid lunches can subsidize meals for lower-income students. The company also provides free catering for events to raise money for better school food. And, of course, Richmond is hopeful that the federal government will raise the federal reimbursement rate when it reauthorizes child nutrition programs later this year.
“We have to be smart as a country and a food system,” Richmond said. “But we are living proof that it can be done.”
Melon mania: The U.S. produces about four billion pounds per year of watermelon, putting us fourth in the world after China, Turkey, and Iran.
Seed-spitting states: States with the largest share of watermelon production in the country are: Florida, 20 percent; Texas, 17 percent; California, 16 percent; Georgia, 13 percent; and Arizona, seven percent.
Not working but not idle: Of the 37 million Americans aged 20 to 64 who are not employed, more than a quarter (26 percent) are caring for others.
Not working and not able: Twenty-five percent of the group above have a chronic illness or disability that precludes work.
Not working so as to study: Ten percent of the non-working cohort is going to school to improve themselves and their job chances.
Not working at last: Only 14 percent of non-working people are actually retired.