September 6, 2019

(SCHOOL NUTRITION) Permanent link

The Advocate: September 2019

Every month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters, a way to build a direct link not only between AASA and our affiliates, but also AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the September 2019 edition.

Earlier this summer, USDA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would limit states’ ability to implement Broad-based Categorical Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which provides eligible low-income households with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that can be used at authorized grocery stores. Under current law, families may become SNAP-eligible by either (1) meeting program-specific federal eligibility requirements, or (2) being deemed automatic or “categorically" eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant (TANF).

Originally, TANF was designed as a broad-purposed block grant to finance a wide range of social welfare activities, including government-subsidized employment, childcare and cash. By automatically enrolling TANF eligible households in SNAP, the Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) program enabled states to support families on the cusp of the federal poverty line through short-term financial crises by ensuring their continued access to food security. Cat El also benefited schools by making TANF students automatically eligible for free and reduced priced lunch.

The effect of this change on students and schools will be immense, as many families will no longer be eligible to receive free and reduced priced breakfast and lunch if the regulation passes. According to early estimates from Food Nutritional Service, more than 500,000 students will lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals as a result of the change.

Additionally, by limiting states' ability to confer Categorical Eligibility to TANF families, the NPRM could hurt schools’ Title I Funding. Under the new regulation, fewer students will be eligible to receive the FRPL designation, which is one of the key metrics the U.S. Department of Education uses to allocate funding. Thus, the NPRM presents us with a double whammy scenario that will hurt the federal school meals and Title I programs. 

Cat El policies have been in place for more than two decades. Although House Republicans tried to gut the program during the 2011 Reauthorization of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, Congress has overwhelmingly rejected efforts to make Cat El more restrictive, including during its consideration of the 2005 budget reconciliation and the 2018 Farm Bill. This USDA rulemaking is an attempt to sidestep Congress and is outside of USDA’s authority.   

Remember, in 2019 we're asking all our members to take their advocacy up to the next level. Here is your chance to let USDA know that this is unacceptable. Comments must be filed on or before September 23. To help broadcast the importance of Cat El for students and schools, you can file comments by copying and pasting this letter to the following link! If you're looking for something shorter, feel free to copy and paste an abridged template for filing comments here