FFN’s January DC Policy Update

Author: Kate Fitzgerald, FFN Senior Policy Advisor

The Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law by President Obama on December 13 and includes the most comprehensive improvements to federal child nutrition programs in the last 30 years.

The legislation allows USDA to control junk food sold in schools, increases the number of low-income students eligible for free meals, expands after-school feeding programs to more states, and ups the reimbursement rate for schools that improve the quality of their lunches. The bill also establishes a national farm to school grant program to help link farmers with their local school districts.  Starting in 2012, there will be $5 million per year available for non-profits, farmer cooperatives and other groups to build the infrastructure needed for schools  to source nutritious, local food cost-effectively.(www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/Child_Nutrition_Fact_Sheet_12_10_10.pdf)

President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/obama-signs-food-safety-bill-2/) on January 4 expanding the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authority to recall tainted food, inspect food facilities and trace the cause of foodborne  illnesses.    Many small and organic farmers, processors, and wholesalers were concerned that the bill could interrupt the growth of direct markets and the development of regional food systems but the final legislation includes many provisions that not only mitigate the risk but also explicitly protect organic production systems and small farmers.  The bill does not include a mechanism to raise the money FDA would need to implement the new provisions and additional appropriations for the agency are unlikely so there will probably not be much change in the food safety system on the ground.

The 111th Congress ended without passing a budget for fiscal year 2011 which meant that the proposed Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) will not begin this year.  HFFI was the victim or last-minute wrangling over the continued funding of government with Congress eventually passing a “continuing resolution” that keep federal agencies funded at their current levels through March 4, 2011.  President Obama had included a request for funding to support loans and grants to establish food enterprises in underserved areas in his 2011 budget proposal.  Advocates are renewing the campaign this year through legislation soon-to-be introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The 112th Congress began on January 5, 2011 with the Republican Party firmly in control of the House of Representatives and committed to cutting the federal budget by $60 billion this year.  Attention of both houses will concentrate on fiscal issues for the next several months as they work to pass a budget for all federal agencies for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 (October 1, 2010 – September 30, 2011) and negotiate an increase in the federal debt limit to prevent the government from defaulting on its debt.

The pace of deliberations for the 2012 Farm Bill has slowed down with new House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) signaling that the Committee will spend 2011 educating new members and conducting fact finding hearings.  In the Senate, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will take over the chairmanship of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and the Ranking Member will be Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS).

The Farm Bill is the primary piece of legislation shaping American agriculture but it also includes important conservation, energy, rural economic development and nutrition provisions, including the food stamp, or SNAP, program.   It is reauthorized about every five years (the last passed in 2008) and costs about $300 billion over those five years, with almost 70% of the spending going to nutrition benefits for low-income Americans.

Reflecting the new, broad constituency interested in food policy, the American Planning Association (APA), the American Public Health Association (APHA), the American Nurses Association (ANA) and American Dietetic Association (ADA) released their shared Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Food System (http://www.planning.org/nationalcenters/health/pdf/HealthySustainableFoodSystemsPrinciples.pdf).  The principles emphasize social, economic and ecological sustainability.


As we work to inform the debate on important food and agriculture policy initiatives, such as the Farm Bill and Child Nutrition Act, FFN will occasionally feature reports, like this one, from our policy staff in Washington, DC.