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)
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic crisis, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation urges these actions to prevent hunger and even larger increases in poverty:
Raise the maximum SNAP benefit level by 15 percent per participant for the duration of the economic downturn.
Remove the 3-month time limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed adults who are not raising children under the age of 18 for the duration of the economic downturn.
Stop implementation of new regulatory changes that would decrease SNAP benefits or take SNAP benefits away from 4 million people.
USDA should simplify the process for states to distribute benefits through the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program.
Longer term the following actions can maintain and strengthen SNAP and its impact:
Increase SNAP benefits by 20 percent to enhance anti-hunger and anti-poverty effects while reforming the underlying system of calculating food costs and benefit amounts.
Avoid funding cuts and eligibility restrictions that would reduce enrollment and/or benefit levels.
Double investments in SNAP-Ed (the Supplemental Nutrition Education Program-Education) and financial incentive programs to encourage SNAP participants to purchase more fruits and vegetables and help them make healthier purchases.
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program
In response to the pandemic:
USDA and Congress should ensure that the relevant waivers remain in place for as long as needed and that states and WIC offices have the technical support they need to continue to serve families
• Congress should increase WIC funding to extend eligibility to postpartum mothers through the first two years after the birth of a baby, and to children through the age of 6 to align with participation in school meal programs, and should enable infants and children to participate for two years before having to reapply.
• Policymakers should work to increase racial equity in WIC participation, including making WIC packages more culturally inclusive, providing targeted support based on health disparities, and providing breastfeeding support that is inclusive and relevant for women of color who participate in WIC.
• Congress should fund the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program at its full authorized amount of $90 million to ensure mothers have access to critical supports.
• Congress should continue to support and fund efforts to streamline and modernize WIC services through technology, including achieving the congressional mandate for all states to achieve WIC Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) by 2020.
• USDA is required by Congress to update the WIC food package every 10 years. As it does so, USDA should ensure that the process is grounded in the latest, most sound nutritional science.
• The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should continue to support and reimburse WIC for its role in lead screening.
School Meals and Snacks
• USDA should support states in using existing waivers to serve free meals to all students through the end of FY 2021, as recently authorized by Congress.
• USDA should reconsider the rule it proposed in January 2020 that would weaken school nutrition standards and adversely affect student health and academic performance.
• Maintain nutrition standards for school meals that were in effect prior to USDA’s final rule from December 2018 (for whole grains, sodium, milk) and current nutrition standards for school snacks.
• Continue to implement and expand the Community Eligibility Provision that allows schools in high-poverty areas to serve free meals to all students, regardless of family income.
• States should implement nutrition standards that strengthen the federal standards.
• USDA should expand guidance and technical assistance to support schools in meeting updated nutrition standards and managing new school kitchen equipment.
Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP)
• CACFP should be expanded to allow the option of a third meal service.
• CACFP should continue streamlining program operations and paperwork to allow for easier enrollment for providers to serve as sponsors of the program.
• CACFP should continue to 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.
• USDA and HHS should work with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to finalize guidelines in a timely manner and in a way that will help reduce consumption of added sugars.
• USDA and HHS should work with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to maintain the scientific integrity of the Dietary Guidelines.
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.