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Friday, January 7, 2011

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 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 made substantial changes in child nutrition and WIC programs (most importantly, increasing federal financing for school lunches) that were estimated to cost just about $4.5 billion over 10 years. It also included spending reductions in other programs that offset this cost. Most significantly, it (1) reduced payments under the Agriculture Department’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and (2) included a restructuring of, and long-term cut in spending for, the nutrition education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program). On August 5, 2010, the Senate approved an amended version of S. 3307. It differed from the committee-reported version of the bill in that it replaced savings from the EQIP offset with spending reductions achieved by reducing future benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program) and dropped authority for the Agriculture Department to bar certain foods from the WIC program.

In July 2010, the House Education and Labor Committee approved the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act (H.R. 5504, as extensively amended in committee). This bill included provisions that are much the same as the Senate initiative, but the anticipated cost ( more than $7 billion over 10 years) was substantially larger because of provisions expanding child nutrition efforts well beyond those in the Senate’s bill and only relatively minimal offsets.

After lengthy internal debates over the cost of any child nutrition/WIC reauthorization initiative and how to pay for it, the House approved the Senate’s bill on December 2, 2010, and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was enacted on December 13, 2010 (P.L. 111-296).

Date of Report: December 23, 2010
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: R41354
Price: $29.95

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