WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.); and U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) reintroduced legislation in the Senate and House to give Tribes an important tool to address the pervasive and serious problem of child hunger and nutrition-related diseases. The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2018 acknowledges that Tribes better understand the needs of their communities and are better positioned to ensure children get healthy meals. The bill would change federal policy and allow Tribes to administer federal programs that provide free, healthy meals to children in schools.
Because virtually all of Indian Country resides within a food desert, Native American children are at a much higher risk of suffering from hunger and nutrition-related diseases like obesity and diabetes. In fact, it is estimated that half of all Native children will develop diabetes in their lifetime. School nutrition programs are proven to help prevent food insecurity and obesity and a healthy diet protects against diabetes, but Tribal schools and Native families face unnecessary hurdles to accessing important hunger and nutrition services because Tribal governments are locked out of administering school meals and other critical food programs.
The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act provides funding and 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 that they may directly administer school food programs without having to go through state agencies.
“Native American children are some of the most vulnerable to hunger, obesity, and diabetes — serious health problems that school meal programs are helping to combat. The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act opens the door for Tribes to manage and deliver important food programs for Native students who may not otherwise have consistent or adequate nutrition. Providing Tribal governments with the necessary authority to directly serve the nutrition needs of their communities makes good sense,” said Udall. “Native youth are already drawing on community resources to battle diabetes and obesity in their communities. This legislation makes sure that these students have access to healthy foods so they can focus on their education, instead of worrying about their next meal.”
“Existing laws that mandate sovereign tribes to go through state agencies before they can administer food programs exacerbates the growing problem of food insecurity and obesity among Native American families,” said Cortez Masto. “With far too many Native American children relying on school lunches as their only source of food and nutrition, it is crucial that we provide essential resources for tribes to expand access to the critical school breakfast and lunch programs, the child and adult care food program, and the summer food service program for children. I am proud to support a bill that will help Nevada’s Tribal communities ensure that no child experiences hunger or lack of nutrition as a barrier to learning and success.”
“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 meet the needs of children in their communities.”
Several Tribal governments and community organizations have endorsed the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2018, including Navajo Nation, New Mexico Appleseed, the Food and Research Action Center, and the National Congress of American Indians.
“This bill is a great step forward in self-governance and direct service management,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.
“Native American children around the country are dangerously at risk of malnutrition. This important bill makes it easier for children to get the nutrition they need to grow and focus at school,” said Jennifer Ramo, Executive Director of New Mexico Appleseed.