Congress Must Strengthen Access to Child Care Meals During Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Published on May 25, 2021 in Child Nutrition, Federal Advocacy, Young Children

Similar to school meals, but targeted at our youngest learners, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) offers financial support to help child care providers feed the children in their care. The food program brings child care meals to over 600,000 California children, but only 46% of licensed family child care homes participate and just 20% of licensed child care centers. The low reach of CACFP means less for California—less nutrition assistance for low-income children and less financial assistance to support California’s child care infrastructure. As policymakers start to take on Child Nutrition Reauthorization, a top priority must be to improve the reach of the food program through smart solutions like those proposed in Senator Casey’s Access to Healthy Foods for Young Children Act of 2021 (S. 1270):

Improve area eligibility

Under current federal law, family child care home providers may serve free child care meals at the highest reimbursement rate if they operate within the attendance area of a school where at least 50% of children are eligible for free or reduced price school meals. Senator Casey's bill would lower the area eligibility threshold to 40% and help expand access to child care meals in areas with a high concentration of poverty, but who don’t meet the current cutoff. Our partners at the Food Research and Action Center have modeled the impact of lowering area eligibility to 40%. A significant portion of California would benefit.

Increase reimbursement rates

Even before the pandemic, most child care providers faced the challenge of operating on razor-thin margins and utilized public income support at high rates. In 2019, 15% of child care workers had to turn to CalFresh to try to make ends meet. But the problem is worsening. A recent study revealed that nearly three in four child care providers worried about running out of food in the last year and more than 50% actually did. Policymakers must take additional steps to pay child care providers a living wage, including more fairly compensating child care providers for the cost of serving child care meals. Senator Casey’s bill would increase CACFP reimbursements for child care centers and family child care providers by 10 cents for each meal and snack and improve the cost of living adjustment for child care home reimbursement rates.

Eliminate overly burdensome and outdated paperwork

Although several paperwork reduction efforts have been made to make CACFP an easier program to operate, there is still room for improvement. The program is widely recognized as difficult to operate and its reputation for “endless paperwork” is often cited as a reason by family child care home providers to not participate. Such concerns led the California Assembly’s Blue Ribbon Taskforce to call for a thorough review of administration and compliance monitoring to remove unnecessary burdens for agencies and providers in 2019. Many of the burdens that remain require federal policy change. Senator Casey’s bill would direct the United States Department of Agriculture to reduce unnecessary and duplicative paperwork.

Allow another meal or snack for children in full day care

Currently, child care providers and child care centers can only claim one meal and two snacks or two meals every day. That means if a child is in care for a full day there is no federal support to provide an additional snack or meal. Senator Casey’s bill would better meet families needs by allowing an additional CACFP meal or snack in full-day child care.