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Committee Passes My Bill to Improve School Nutrition Standards
Thank you for the opportunity to update you on the work of the 114th Congress. I trust this finds you and your family well, as we work together to bring Hoosier common sense to Washington.
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In this week's Rokita Report
Committee Passage of the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed my bill, H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act. I wrote this bill because I recognize that kids can’t succeed in school if they are hungry. The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act will ensure students’ nutrition needs are met in a way that provides the flexibility state and local leaders have long desired. It will do so without adding new and prohibitive costs for schools or changing eligibility requirements for students.
Much has been said about changes to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The program’s current rules are perverse, as they incentivize schools to be paid for giving out meals to all students, even to those whose families can or do pay for their kids’ lunches. Under current law, a school can be reimbursed by taxpayers for offering meal assistance to every student even if just a mere 40 percent are eligible. This means that schools can have taxpayers pay for every meal in a school even when a majority of students are not even eligible for assistance. By increasing that requirement to 60 percent, we at least make sure that a small majority of students actually qualify for the taxpayer-subsidized meal before taxpayers pay for all students to receive them. This is hardly an unreasonable or unfair threshold. And we should all be mindful of smarter ways to do things when we are faced with $19 trillion in federal debt, a number that is only increasing.
In a recent post in The Hill, Robert Doar, Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote about the bill: “The House bill tightens CEP... While there has been pushback by Democrats who worry that eligible children will not be able to access the program, facts show that the difficulty of applying for the program has been exaggerated… In New York City, online applications were allowed, and an automated computer match between the SNAP agency and the school system was developed to allow all children in households receiving SNAP benefits to automatically become eligible for free school meals... In 2013-14, 87 % of school age SNAP participants were directly certified for free meals. This extends the reach of the school meal program without making every student -- such as those who do not meet the income criteria -- eligible for a free lunch.”
The savings from the CEP reforms fund the other improvements in H.R. 5003, so they don’t add to the debt. Contrary to inaccurate claims that breakfast assistance would be hurt, our bill actually provides a higher reimbursement for breakfast – a rate that hasn’t been adjusted since the 1980s. We would also use funds to pay for better access to summer meals, making it easier for poor students to receive nutrition even when school is not in session.
We also stop several school lunch “standards” championed by Michelle Obama that drive up costs and have only resulted in lunches being thrown away. We support Indiana jobs through the expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable programs for schools. H.R. 5003 allows the program to incorporate cost effective dried, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables when the products are equally nutritious. The current rules require fresh produce all year round. To accommodate this many schools have to import produce from Mexico, instead of using local products that are held to the highest safety standards.
We worked thoughtfully and collaboratively to put forward a bill that will help schools better serve students, and today we took another step in advancing these commonsense reforms. I look forward to continuing our efforts to improve federal child nutrition programs for children, families, and taxpayers.
Providing for Common Defense
One of the responsibilities of the federal government is to provide for our common defense. To do so, Congress allocates and authorizes funding through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This week, the House considered the NDAA on the floor.
The 2017 NDAA halts reductions to our Armed Forces, provides a pay raise for our troops, and reforms several critical areas, including military health care, the commissary system, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the acquisition system. The bill continues to prohibit transfers of foreign detainees in Guantanamo Bay into any facilities on American soil. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill because of this provision despite the fact that more than one hundred prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay went right back to being terrorists.
The bill provides the Secretary of Defense the authority to develop cyber institutes within ROTC programs. This is important for Hoosiers because Purdue is one of nine universities working with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to develop its ROTC program into a cyber workforce feeder for the U.S. army.
The NDAA passed the House 277 to 147.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced a proposal requiring employers collect data about employees' personal information and pay rates. This regulation comes from a misguided reading of the Paperwork Reduction Act. This week's Rokita Reading is a Wall Street Journal article by Diana Furchtgott-Roth titled "the Pay-Equality Police Get New Ammunition." The piece discusses how these new regulations put "an enormous compliance burden on businesses."
The purpose of these new occupational categories is to provide a tool to identify discriminatory pay practices where they exist in order to ensure that fair pay practices are put in place. However, as Furchtgott-Roth explains "the occupational categories are too wide to suggest, to say nothing of proving, discrimination. One category, 'professionals,' includes artists, computer programmers, designers, dietitians, editors, engineers, lawyers, librarians, scientists, nurses, physicians, surgeons and teachers. Companies can await an avalanche of lawsuits and investigations if their female 'professionals' are paid less than their male 'professionals'—even if the former are dietitians and the latter are computer programmers."
These vague forms will burden business with $693 million in compliance costs according to the Chamber of Commerce. Another problem is that this information can be released to competitors. The EEOC does not explain how it will secure information. We have seen the failure of the federal government at securing personal information on numerous occasions, and in some cases, these forms can be requested by rival companies through the Freedom of Information Act.
As the EEOC moves along with these proposed regulations, I will take appropriate action to ensure that Hoosier businesses are not burdened by distant Washington bureaucrats wanting to collect statistically irrelevant data points.
Thank you for your continued interest in Congress and for supporting my efforts to bring Hoosier common sense to Washington. Take care.