Center for American Progress

RELEASE: As Congress Prepares to Consider Federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, New CAP Report Urges Congress to Improve Nutrition in Early Childhood Programs
Press Release

RELEASE: As Congress Prepares to Consider Federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, New CAP Report Urges Congress to Improve Nutrition in Early Childhood Programs

Washington, D.C. — With Congress preparing to consider child nutrition reauthorization, including the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP, the Center for American Progress today released a report urging Congress to reduce participation barriers for programs and providers in order to maximize the program’s potential. Although the program is relatively small, the CACFP has a significant reach, providing snacks and meals to more than 3 million young children at child care centers, family day care homes, and Head Start programs. In 2014, CACFP funded nearly 2 billion meals, the majority of which fed children younger than 5.

“Nutrition is a critical component of healthy child development and early childhood education. Without proper meals and snacks, children are unable to learn the skills needed to be ready for school at kindergarten,” said Katie Hamm, Director of CAP’s Early Childhood Education Policy team. “The Child and Adult Care Food Program also helps defray child care costs for millions of families, which helps parents work. With the upcoming reauthorization of the CACFP, Congress has the opportunity to make improvements to the program and strengthen early childhood programs.”

“By supporting child care programs, CACFP helps parents work outside the home,” said Joel Berg, CAP Senior Fellow. “Any program that reduces child hunger, boosts education, and facilitates work is the ultimate win-win-win and should be expanded.”

Early childhood education plays a critical role in preparing children physically and academically for success in school. This is especially true for infants and toddlers, who are most likely to experience poverty in early childhood. CACFP has great potential to support children at this critical stage in development. Unfortunately, burdensome paperwork requirements prevent many child care providers from participating, and access is limited by complex eligibility rules. Meal reimbursement rates are also insufficient to cover the cost of healthy food. CAP’s report outlines how poverty and food insecurity can place children at risk of negative education, health, and emotional outcomes and outlines the importance of the child nutrition program to ensure that all children can succeed both inside and outside the classroom.

To strengthen the CACFP and leverage its resources, CAP makes a series of recommendations for policymakers to consider as it looks to reauthorize the program:

  • Increase reimbursement rates to more fully cover the costs of meals
  • Reduce the CACFP area eligibility test to 40 percent of residents living below the federal poverty line
  • Allow three meals per day in CACFP to account for the reality that many parents are now working longer and nontraditional hours
  • Reduce CACFP paperwork by expanding direct certification and reforming the complex, two-tiered reimbursement system for family child care homes
  • Bolster the use of CACFP in ensuring safe child care settings
  • Create a small pilot grant program to reward states for using CACFP to support food-related costs in preschool expansion

Click here to read “How the Child and Adult Food Care Program Improves Early Childhood Education” by Christine Binder, Joel Berg, Maryam Adamu, and Katie Hamm.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at [email protected] or 202.478.6331.