U.S. Representative Kristi Noem today joined 42 other Members of Congress in writing a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging his agency to provide greater flexibility in school nutrition standards.  The USDA will soon move into a second phase of implementation for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which would create even stricter standards for school lunch programs.  Concerns have been raised among school nutrition professionals and administrators about the increased compliance costs of the “Target 2” standards.

“We all want our kids to be healthier, but enforcing a nationwide, one-size-fits all approach is extremely costly for our schools and jeopardizing the program’s long-term viability,” said Rep. Noem.  “Already, compliance with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has led to lower participation rates and sent costs soaring.  Stricter standards will only exacerbate these unintended consequences, making it harder on school budgets and on our kids.”

In October 2012, Rep. Noem, along with House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline and Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., requested a GAO study on school nutrition.  The study, released in February 2014, revealed that participation in the National School Lunch Program declined by 1.2 million students (3.7%) from the 2010-2011 school year through the 2012-2013 school year.  This is seen as a reversal from previous trends.  Prior to the 2010-2011 school year, participation in the program had been increasing steadily for many years. 

Additionally, last December, Rep. Noem introduced the Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act, which was endorsed by the National School Boards Association, the School Superintendents Association (AASA) and the Council of the Great City Schools.  The legislation would:

  • Make the USDA’s easing of the meat and grain requirements permanent through a legislative fix, allowing schools more flexibility in serving meats and grains while still staying within calorie maximums
  • Give administrators flexibility on some of the rules that have increased costs for school districts
After pressure from schools across the country and Members of Congress, the USDA made the meat and grain flexibility permanent.  Additionally, the bipartisan budget agreement that Rep. Noem supported included report language based on Noem’s Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act to allow more flexibility on a number of other rules, if the cost was too high. 

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