Tester pushes to increase access to healthy meals for Native American students

Legislation will remove barriers restricting tribes from accessing nutrition assistance

(U.S. Senate) – With just weeks remaining before critical child nutrition resources run out, Senator Jon Tester has sponsored legislation that will improve the access American Indian students have to healthy meals at school.

The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act will remove barriers that have kept Indian Tribes from accessing the school nutrition resources that other communities currently receive. Tribes are currently prohibited from administering nutrition assistance such as the School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service Program, and other initiatives available under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“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 Indian Affairs Committee. “This bill takes care of our kids by allowing Indian tribes to provide healthy meals to students so they can succeed in the classroom.”

Tester’s bill also allows local school districts on or near an Indian Reservation to decide which students are eligible for nutrition assistance and authorizes tribal governments to administer USDA nutrition programs to meet the needs of Indian communities.

“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 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.”

According to a 2012 USDA report, 23 percent of all Native American households did not have access to a healthy meal because they are living in poverty.

Six out of seven low-income students who have access to free or reduced-price school lunch during the academic year do not get nutrition assistance during the summer and over 30 million students have access to free or reduced-price school lunch each day across the nation.

On September 30, several nutrition initiatives including the Summer Food Service Program and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program are set to expire.

In July, Tester introduced legislation that increases opportunities for Native American children by expanding afterschool initiatives that currently are not available in many Indian communities.