The School Nutrition Association’s annual Legislative Action Conference is an opportunity for SNA members and industry professionals to meet with their legislators to discuss issues facing the industry. This year Digi Smart Solutions own Mac McKay, Director of Sales, and Michael Miller, Digi SmartTemps co-founder and Representative, were in attendance to lobby in favor of the school nutrition industry (Digi SmartTemps has attended LAC for over a decade). Michael is also a member of the Indiana School Nutrition Association and is their Legislative Action Committee Chair. The following are his impressions of the event that will be placed in the Spring edition of the Indiana SNA’s Food for Thought publication.
SNA Legislative Action Conference Recap – by Michael Miller, ISNA Legislative Action Committee Chair
On Sunday, April 2nd, I had the opportunity to attend the School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action Conference (SNA’s LAC) in Washington DC with 900+ SNA members from around the country. This was my 17th LAC, and I am very proud to report that we had our largest delegation from Indiana ever, with 21 attending.
Since school nutrition programs are Federally funded, it’s imperative that we meet with our Legislators to give them feedback on what is going well, and areas that could be improved on. It also provides us with an opportunity to take the pulse of what our Federal Legislators think about School Nutrition programs and how we may better serve Hoosiers back home in Indiana.
This year’s LAC felt like a continuation of our efforts from last year. As you may recall, School Nutrition Programs need to be reauthorized every 5 years by our Federal Government. The last time this happened was in 2010 when President Obama signed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act into law. Last year, Congress failed to reauthorize our programs, but did introduce legislation that could have had a very negative impact on the way our programs were administered and funded.
As we all know, there were some unintended consequences that were a result of the HHFKA. The new Sodium target, the move to 100% whole grains, an increase in the required servings of fruits and vegetables might look great on paper, but in reality, we know that many kids initially resisted the changes by not participating, and, or fed their healthier meals to the trash cans.
Some of the more conservative Legislators were concerned that the HHFKA may be too stringent and agreed that increasing flexibility was a sensible request. Last year, the House Education and Workforce Committee even suggested that in light of an almost 20 trillion dollar deficit, the Government could potentially solve this challenge by giving each State a Block Grant of funding. Each state would then be allowed to oversee their own programs and allocate these resources accordingly.
While Block Grants may have their place in the Government, based on the research that SNA has done, it is clear that Block Grants could do more harm than good. Block Grants would eliminate the standardization of nutrition programs so that each State, and potentially each district within a State, could have its own “nutrition program”. Block Grants would also establish a set limit of funding so if a state, or area within a state would experience an economic downturn, or an increase in participation, the State, and local District, would have to find new funding to afford the increase in meals, labor, etc.
From an Industry perspective, there is an economic benefit to a National school nutrition program whereby food, equipment and services can be used universally in all 50 states (i.e. the more volume, the better the price). Block Grants would likely increase requests for varieties that may not be feasible or sustainable for manufacturers, and could result in vendors leaving the market place, which would potentially shrink options, raise prices, and minimize competition.
This year at LAC, we met with all 11 of our Indiana Legislators. We started out be thanking our officials for our current programs and funding, and tried to provide some positive feedback on School Nutrition Programs from each Legislative District around the State. Thanks to all of you that submitted Feedback Forms prior to LAC – your information was included in our packets to each Legislator. Our conversation then moved to the SNA’s Position Paper, at which time we reiterated out requests about making Sodium target 1, and the 50% Whole Grain requirement permanent. We also asked our Legislators to say “no” to Block Grants should issue come up. As we learned, Reauthorization is not likely this year, and no bills, or Legislation, has been introduced at this time, so Block Granting is not likely a threat at this time. Instead, the Farm Bill is up for Reauthorization and represents a significantly larger investment ($956 Billion for Farm Bill vs. $16.6 Billion for NSLP & NSBP combined), so all indications are that this will be the focus for our Legislators this year.
This explains why SNA’s 2nd position, requests 6 cents in USDA Foods for breakfast (there is currently no commodity support). This would be a win/win for School Nutrition Programs and Farmers alike. A case in point, last week Kentucky Senator Rand Paul attended a Town Hall meeting in his state with Farmers who were upset about grain prices and global challenges that may negatively impact their ability to sell their crops abroad. A fellow KSNA Legislative Committee member was in attendance and proposed how 6 cents for breakfast commodities could help solve this challenge, and result in a win/win for Farmers and students alike. The Senator was impressed and even commented that he had not considered that as an option until then.
This example drives home the reason why our Legislative Action efforts play a very important role in the education of our “decision makers” in this Country. If we don’t advocate for our programs, who will? With that in mind, I encourage all of you to consider inviting your Legislators to breakfast and lunch so that you can tell them first about the positive difference that school meals play (and your department) in the education and well-being of all children. I also encourage you to consider attending LAC in the future (the next LAC is March 4-6, 2018 in Washington D.C.).
School Nutrition Programs were brought to life by President Harry Truman in 1946 as a measure of National Security to ensure that recruits did not show up malnourished as they had experienced during World War 2. A lot has changed since then, but one thing remains the same; school nutrition programs continue to fuel minds and feed bodies, preparing students to learn, to work, and to serve our country.
Since this is likely my last LAC as ISNA Legislative Chair (definitely NOT my last LAC), I could not think of a better way to wrap up my term! We had our largest delegation from Indiana ever, we had important programs and positions to defend, and we had meetings with every Legislator and a constituent from each district. In short, I think we more than accomplished our goal. Thanks to everyone that made the investment to attend LAC and for your passion and enthusiasm as we Charged the Hill. Special thanks also goes to Sheri Shipp for all of her help in getting us organized, coordinating appointments and travel. Together, we made history on April 4th!
I am proud to announce that I will be serving as the SNA’s next Industry Advisory Committee Chair starting in August. I will continue to serve the ISNA through my term which ends this coming Fall, and beyond if necessary, to ensure that whoever is selected as the next Legislative Chair will have a smooth transition. It has been a true privilege and honor for me to serve the ISNA, and all of you over the past four years.