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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization: Issues and Legislation in the 111th Congress

Joe Richardson
Specialist in Social Policy

A comprehensive congressional review ("reauthorization") of the primary laws governing child nutrition and WIC programs (the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act) was scheduled for 2009 (the last reauthorization was in 2004). Congress did not meet the September 30, 2009, deadline for comprehensive reauthorization. Instead, a one-year extension (through September 30, 2010) was included in the FY2010 Agriculture Department appropriations measure to give Congress time to consider a full reauthorization bill. The delay in child nutrition/WIC reauthorization was primarily due to a lack of agreement on how to fund any new child nutrition initiatives subject to congressional "pay-go" rules. The Administration had proposed spending $10 billion over the next 10 years on expanding child nutrition efforts to "end childhood hunger by 2015," but did not offer specific policy changes or spending/revenue offsets.

In 2010, Congress has moved to begin the process of enacting the most sweeping changes in child nutrition and WIC programs since the 1970s. In May, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee reported the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (S. 3307; S.Rept. 111- 178). It makes substantial changes in child nutrition and WIC programs (most importantly, increasing federal financing for school lunches) that are estimated to cost just under $5 billion over the next 10 years. It also includes spending reductions in other programs that offset this cost—most significantly, reduced payments under the Agriculture Department's Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and a long-term cut in spending for the nutrition education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program). In July 2010, the House Education and Labor Committee approved the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act (H.R. 5504, as amended in committee). This bill includes provisions that are much the same as the Senate initiative, but the anticipated cost is larger because it includes some provisions expanding child nutrition efforts beyond those in the Senate's bill and there are only relatively minimal offsets.

Although the Senate and House bills have now placed an extensive menu of policy changes on the table, how to pay for them is still the overriding issue. Little time is left on the congressional calendar for enactment of a comprehensive child nutrition/WIC reauthorization measure. If there is no reauthorization bill enacted before September 30, 2010, another extension (as was done in 2009) is most likely.

Date of Report: August 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R41354
Price: $29.95

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