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Child Nutrition Programs: Spending and Policy Options

CBO Report – September 25, 2015 – Child Nutrition Programs: Spending and Policy Options

“Several federal programs support children’s nutritional needs. In 2014, the federal government spent about $20 billion to reimburse schools, child care centers, and after-school programs for children’s meals. Those programs benefit mainly school-age children from low-income households. Other nutrition programs provide benefits directly to such households: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly the Food Stamp program) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The largest of the five school- and center-based programs, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), fed about 30 million children each school day in 2014 and cost $12.7 billion. The federal government spent another $3.7 billion in 2014 to feed about 14 million children through the School Breakfast Program (SBP). The government also spent $3.6 billion to provide nutritional assistance in locations outside schools and during the summer, as well as to augment children’s diets with milk. This report focuses on the school lunch and breakfast programs, which account for more than 80 percent of all spending for child nutrition programs. Population growth, higher reimbursement rates, policy changes, and other factors more than doubled spending in real terms (meaning that values are adjusted for inflation) on child nutrition programs from 1990 to 2014. Continued increases in food prices and demographic changes are expected to contribute to further growth in spending on child nutrition programs. Under current law, the Congressional Budget Office projects, spending would rise to about $31 billion in nominal dollars by 2025. Adjusted for expected inflation, that value represents an increase of 26 percent over 2014 spending.”

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