February 09, 2018

Cortez Masto Introduces Bill to Help Native Students Access Healthy Foods

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), 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 understand the needs of their communities and are best positioned to ensure tribal 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. 

“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 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.”

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 restricted under current law in 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. This bill provides more options to tribes to feed more children.