Sen. Jon Tester, Vice Chair of the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act streamlines access to effective child nutrition programs
Published September 15, 2015
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) and Jon Tester (D-Montana), along with U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico), announced that they have introduced legislation to streamline and expand access to federal school breakfast and lunch, summer feeding and other meal services by allowing Tribes to participate directly in these programs. Native American children suffer from food insecurity and obesity at rates twice the national average, but too often aren’t able to access important hunger and nutrition services because Tribal governments are locked out of administering the school meals and other critically important child nutrition programs.
The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2015 will adapt existing child nutrition programs to ensure all kids in Native communities have consistent access to nutritious meals. Instead of requiring Tribes to go through state agencies to access federal nutrition programs, the bill adds federally recognized Indian Tribes to the list of governments authorized to administer the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program so Tribes can directly provide these services.
“Native American children are some of the most vulnerable to hunger and obesity — two problems that school meal programs are proven to help combat,” said Udall, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “But Tribal schools and Native American families often face unnecessary hurdles to access child nutrition programs. The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act will cut bureaucratic red tape and allow Tribal governments to administer school meal programs directly, so more kids can get healthy meals all year long. I’m proud to introduce this legislation, and am thankful to groups like New Mexico Appleseed for their input and their continuous work fighting hunger in New Mexico.”
“Native American kids are at a disadvantage without access to healthy, well-rounded meals. We can’t expect them to do their best if they’re hungry or lacking proper nutrition,” said Tester, Vice Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “This bill takes care of our kids by allowing Indian Tribes to provide healthy meals to students so they can succeed in the classroom.”
“Native American children are among the most vulnerable in the country to hunger, food insecurity and obesity,” Lujan Grisham said. “We need to remove barriers to child nutrition programs and make it as easy as possible for Tribes to directly access funding and meet the needs of children in their communities.”
Several Tribal governments and community organizations have endorsed the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2015, including New Mexico Appleseed, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Food and Research Action Center, the National Congress of American Indians, and San Felipe Pueblo.
“In our work with the Navajo Nation and other Tribes, we’ve seen a critical gap in children’s access to healthy meals,” said Jennifer Ramo, Executive Director of New Mexico Appleseed. “This is a serious problem for Native American communities, which have some of the highest rates of food insecurity ever recorded in the United States. The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act is a targeted intervention to help Tribes address that problem and meet the needs of their children. We are honored to play a role in its creation, and we thank Senators Udall and Tester and Representative Lujan Grisham for taking on this important issue.”
“By working to provide meals to children in Indian communities, we not only help our children, but also help their parents, and their grandparents — the entire community benefits,” said Governor Ronald Tenorio from the Pueblo of San Felipe. “Passing the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act is especially critical in New Mexico where the state government is working to limit SNAP benefits to some of our families. Our children are our future, and if we have an opportunity to help them live better lives, we should take it.”
“One of the most difficult issues facing American Indians and Alaska Natives is food security,” said Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. “For many of our Native youth, the meals they receive at school are sometimes the only food they have access to on a consistent basis. NCAI supports the introduction of Senator Udall’s legislation S. 1937 — the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2015, which supports food access for Native youth and furthers the exercise of Tribal self-determination and self-governance over food assistance programs.”