We were pleased to see one of the first official actions by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed increasing flexibilities in sodium, whole grain and flavored milk standards in school meals, of which finalization is expected before year’s end. We were also pleased USDA opened a docket to request information on improving food crediting and federal reimbursement in Child Nutrition Programs. NPC provided comments, however, this activity on school meals has not addressed NPC’s ongoing issue, which includes regulatory impediments that limit potato availability within the school breakfast program. Although limits should have been prevented through the 2012 Appropriations language, challenges continue to persist.
For the past year NPC has been working to better understand and quantify this issue. To that end, earlier this year, NPC commissioned a study to understand how school food service directors have choices limited by these remaining impediments. Directors shared:
- Potatoes are a favored breakfast food, but strict food requirements impact the frequency of potatoes and other foods served at breakfast;
- Strict requirements for breakfast displace or prevent the offering of white potatoes and other starchy vegetables; including the requirement to serve fruits or “under consumed” vegetables before starchy; and
- They believe there would be less waste of fruits and other vegetables at breakfast if potatoes could be offered.
In addition to this useful information, NPC also learned a bit more about the demographics of breakfast participation nationwide and about how the school breakfast environment is changing – approximately 36% of respondents are using an alternative/“grab-and-go” type serving format as opposed to traditional cafeteria foodservice.
Based on the data generated by that survey, NPC has worked with a bipartisan group of Representatives and Senators to restore the Congressional intent that no arbitrary limitations on potatoes should exist. In May, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee accepted an amendment by Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) that took definitive action to correct the record and prohibit the use of any further restrictions against potatoes. This amendment was included in the House FY2019 Agricultural Appropriations Bill. The Senate also included similar language in their Appropriations Report. NPC will be working through the balance of this appropriations cycle to ensure that the House’s language is included in any final spending bill.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) The Farm Bill is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. The Farm Bill deals with agriculture policy issues as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the “food stamp” program, and other federal nutrition programs. SNAP funding is currently over $60 billion annually and represents 80 percent of the Farm Bill spending. Debates over applying stricter work requirements for SNAP participants and limiting foods that are eligible for SNAP will be lightning rods for bigger partisan fights on overall welfare reform. Passage is due by the end of September.
The House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill strongly contrast with each other in their treatment of the SNAP program. The House version seeks to restrict participation in SNAP through work requirements and other limiting mechanisms. These changes to the program ultimately resulted in the House Democratic Caucus refusing to offer a single vote in favor of the bill. This lack of bipartisanship initially prevented the House Farm Bill from moving forward in May and the subsequent re-vote in June moved the bill forward with the narrowest of margins (213-211).
In the Senate, efforts to substantially revise the operation of the SNAP program were blocked from proceeding and the chamber easily passed its version by a vote of 86-11. The issues surrounding SNAP will be the most contentious ones to deal with in conference. The ability to come to consensus on its future operation will determine whether a new Farm Bill can be completed by the end of September.
Outside of the government, other reviews of SNAP are taking place, including the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) released a report this past March. While the report did not dive too deeply into nutrition issues, it did recommend a ban of soda from the program, similar to how non-food items are banned.
NPC will continue to participate in the SNAP coalition and promote to members of Congress and the administration the benefits of all potato products being a part of SNAP.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) are updated every five years offering nutrition advice for people aged two and over and forming the basis for federal policy for nutrition and feeding programs. For the first time, the 2020 DGA process will make recommendations for children under 2 years of age and pregnant and lactating mothers, as directed by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.
The 2020 DGA process is beginning to make progress. In October, 2018, the Charter for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee was approved. That Charter sets out the standards for the formation of this federal advisory committee and creates the structure for it to move forward. Additionally, USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) have convened a listening session that NPC participated in and provided subsequent comments. USDA/HHS have also accepted comments regarding prioritization of topics to be reviewed by the next Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). Again, NPC provided feedback to the Agencies. Next steps will include a call for nominations to the DGAC.
Woman Infants and Children (WIC) The USDA is required to review, but not necessarily update, the WIC food packages every 10 years. To that end, USDA asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to review and provide recommended changes by 2017. USDA has the NASEM recommendations but given the lack of pressure to update the food package, as well as other administration priorities, an update to the WIC food package this year is unlikely.
These recommendations included a special report verifying that the white potato should continue to be included in the WIC food package and be eligible for purchase with the Cash Value Voucher, similar to all other fruits and vegetables. This is positive given the large efforts needed to ensure potatoes maintain their position as an eligible vegetable.
Through a thorough review, NPC found that many states have not clearly indicated the fact that white potatoes have equal status to all other fruits and vegetables in the program. To that end, NPC met with USDA (in March and April) to alert and press them to update their website and other materials.
In response, USDA updated their food package policy guidance document and the web pages to make explicit reference potatoes. NPC also audited the state specific websites to flag those not in compliance and USDA followed up with each state to discuss the federal requirements for vegetables on the WIC state approved food list. Additionally, USDA provided technical assistance to specific states found to be not in compliance. All states that received technical assistance are currently in the process of revising their WIC-related documents.
Updated October 2018