The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on families furthest from economic opportunity, people of color, and people with obesity, should heighten awareness of the need for more equitable policies and more investment in prevention.
In the short term, modernizing and strengthening key policies is essential for America’s recovery from the pandemic. Longer-term reform to ensure programs and policies at all levels of government prioritize health and equity is critical for reducing disparities; creating healthier child-care settings, schools and communities; and ensuring that all children can thrive.
The following policies and recommendations can serve as a set of priorities as federal, state, and local leaders work to respond to the pandemic and create long-lasting changes that will help all children grow up healthy and at a healthy weight.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Streamline eligibility and enrollment processes and focus enrollment efforts on communities with low participation, including immigrants, people of color, and rural residents.
- Broaden SNAP eligibility to cover more college students, unemployed adults without children, and lawfully residing immigrants.
- Eliminate the lifetime ban on SNAP participation for convicted drug felons.
- Continue authorization and funding for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) beyond 2023, to provide incentives for healthier SNAP purchases.
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program
• Extend WIC eligibility to postpartum mothers through the first two years after the birth of a baby, to children through age 6, to align with participation in school meal programs so there is no gap in supports. Policymakers should also enable infants and children to participate for two years before having to reapply. Currently, an eligible individual can receive benefits for six months to one year before they need to reapply.
• Ensure that the current waivers that enable families to access WIC services during the pandemic remain in place for as long as needed. These include allowing certification via phone or drive-thru clinics, extending certification periods so children and families receive benefits for longer periods of time, expanding the allowable food items for WIC shoppers, and continuing telehealth models.
• Ensure that all women who qualify for WIC based on income and nutritional risk are able to participate, regardless of citizenship and immigration status.
• Policymakers should work to advance racial equity in WIC participation, including:
– Making approved foods within the WIC packages more culturally relevant.
– Providing targeted support based on health disparities.
– Establishing a process for equitable beneficiary participation in program design, implementation, and evaluation.
– Providing breastfeeding support that is inclusive and relevant for people of color who participate in WIC.
– Ensuring WIC outreach materials are available in multiple languages.
– Recruiting service providers who speak participants’ native languages.
– Increasing accountability, cultural humility, and cultural sensitivity of frontline staff to promote racial equity.
– Strengthening the collection and disaggregation of WIC participation data.
• Support and fund efforts to streamline and modernize WIC services through technology, including advancing the Congressional mandate for all states to implement WIC Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and expanding online purchasing options for the food package.
• As USDA updates the WIC food package (required by Congress to do so every 10 years), USDA should ensure that the process is grounded in the latest, most sound nutritional science such as the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
• Increase the Cash Value Benefit that allows for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. The WIC program currently provides a monthly cash value benefit of $9 for children ages 5 and under and $11 for women to redeem for fruits and vegetables.
School Meals and Snacks
• Make universal school meals permanent and provide resources that ensure every child has access to free school meals.
• USDA should strengthen nutrition standards for school meals to align with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, particularly for added sugars.
• USDA should withdraw a rule proposed in January 2020 that would weaken school nutrition standards and adversely affect student health and academic performance.
• USDA should increase the reimbursement rate schools receive for each meal served that meets current nutrition standards.
• Congress should increase funding to support schools’ efforts to offer healthy meals, including resources for new school kitchen equipment, and training and technical assistance for school food service staff.
• States should work to make universal school meals permanent and implement nutrition standards that go beyond the federal standards.
• States and local districts should make safe, appealing drinking water free and available to all students by ensuring that every school has at least one water bottle filling station in a high-traffic area that is accessible throughout the day, with filtration if needed.
• Local, state, and federal governments should work together to ensure safe drinking and cooking water in all schools, including by requiring and funding testing and remediation for lead in school cafeteria and kitchen tap water, and requesting that USDA report to Congress on specific checkpoints USDA has added to on-site administrative review to ensure that there is effective oversight of drinking water safety and access.
Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP)
• USDA should expand CACFP to allow the option of a third meal service, and Congress should appropriate additional funding if required.
• USDA should continue streamlining CACFP program operations and paperwork to allow for easier enrollment for providers to serve as sponsors of the program.
• USDA should ensure that CACFP can fund nutrition and wellness education and program efforts.
Head Start and Early Head Start
• Head Start and Early Head Start should be adequately resourced, so that the programs are stabilized and can hire, retain, and support high quality staff.
• Head Start and Early Head Start programs should expand access for the nation’s most vulnerable families, especially for infants and toddlers.
State-by-State Reach of Child Nutrition Policies
Several federal policies aim to make healthy foods accessible and affordable to children and adults nationwide, and states play a big role in how these policies are implemented. Visit this new interactive to explore state-by-state data about child food insecurity, and how federal nutrition programs can support better child nutrition. Access data by state or by policy.
Food Marketing to Children
• States and local education agencies should support and implement the provision that all food and beverage advertisements on school campuses meet Smart Snacks nutrition guidelines during the school day–expand to include all forms of marketing (brand).
• The Federal Trade Commission should resume issuing reports examining food marketing to children.
• Restaurants should take soda and other sugary drinks off of kids menus and menu boards.
• State policymakers should oppose legislation limiting the ability of cities, counties, and towns to advance health equity through regulation, taxation, or legislation related to children’s health and healthy communities.
• State policymakers should support the repeal of existing state laws limiting the ability of localities to advance health equity through regulation, taxation, or legislation related to children’s health and healthy communities.
Physical Education and Physical Activity in Schools
The federal government should provide guidance and funding to ensure that schools can continue to help students be active, even while learning remotely.
As states and school districts consider their school reopening plans, they should try to incorporate opportunities for physical activity for students in ways that are safe and healthy given local conditions.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
• CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity should have adequate resources to support grants to all 50 states to implement multi sector campaigns to address obesity.
• The CDC’s REACH program should have adequate resources to support programs across the country working to racial and ethnic health disparities.
Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards in Early Care and Education
• States should include healthy eating and physical activity requirements in quality ratings and/or credentialing for early care and education centers.