U.S. Sens. Smith, Udall, Cortez Masto Reintroduce Legislation to Increase Access to Nutritious Meals for Native Students

WASHINGTON, D.C. [05/02/2019]—Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) reintroduced a bill to give Tribes the authority to directly provide Child Nutrition Programs.

The legislation—the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2019—recognizes that Tribes understand the needs of their communities best, especially when it comes to ensuring children have consistent, healthy, and nutritious meals all year long. Limited access to affordable and nutritious food in Indian Country puts Native children at a high risk of hunger and nutrition-related diseases like diabetes and obesity. The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2019 would help reduce this risk by allowing federally recognized Tribes to directly administer programs like the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) introduced a companion bill in the House.

“If we’re going to make sure Native American students aren’t going hungry on tribal lands, we need to empower tribal governments,” said Sen. Smith. “I helped introduce this legislation so tribal governments can make their own decisions when it comes to combatting child hunger in Indian Country.”

“Tribal schools and Native families still face too many barriers to accessing important hunger and nutrition-related services. With half of all Native children at risk of developing diabetes in their lifetime, it is critical that Tribal governments can directly administer Child Nutrition Programs that help prevent food insecurity and promote healthy diets. The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act gives Tribes the ability to manage and deliver important food programs for Native students who otherwise may struggle to access consistent or adequate nutrition,” said Sen. Udall. “This legislation makes sure that Native students have access to nutritious foods so they can focus on their education, instead of worrying about their next meal.”

“Many communities across Indian Country are in the middle of vast food deserts and rely on federal food programs to combat food insecurity and provide healthy meals to their children and families. It is common sense that tribes should be empowered to directly manage and deliver these important programs. Native American children are already some of the most vulnerable to hunger and nutrition related diseases like obesity and diabetes, so it is crucial that we provide tribes with the resources they need to improve and expand access to vital nutrition services,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. 

“No matter where a child lives, they should not have to worry about where their next meal comes from. However, the limitations that Tribes have to administer food assistance programs for kids make food insecurity a persistent problem in Indian Country,” said Rep. Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “This bill will help ensure children don’t go hungry by ensuring Tribes can administer food assistance programs directly.”

“Far too many Native American children struggle with food insecurity and obesity. Congress needs to be making it easier, not harder, for Tribal nutrition programs to operate in their communities. I’m proud to be a sponsor of the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act of 2019 because it provides more options to tribes to feed more children,” said Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján.

“As sovereign governments, tribes should have the ability to exercise control over the nutrition programs they want to offer their members,” said Rep. Grijalva. “This legislation is a step in the right direction. By removing state governments as an intermediary and allowing tribes the ability to determine their own nutritional programs, tribes will be able to respect their cultural food traditions and keep their communities healthy.”

“Ensuring food security remains a priority across Indian Country, especially for American Indian and Alaska Native Youth,” said Jefferson Keel, President 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. We thank Senator Udall for reintroducing the Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act, which would further the exercise of tribal self-determination and self-governance over food assistance programs and improve food security for our Native youth.”

“Thank you to Senators Udall, Cortez Masto, and Smith and Representatives Haaland, Luján, and Grijalva for reintroducing this legislation to increase the capacity of tribally driven efforts to improve food and nutrition access for Native children everywhere,” said Keith Anderson, Vice-Chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Co-Chair of the Native Farm Bill Coalition.

“The Tribal Nutrition Improvement Act will not only provide improved food access for Native youth, but it also creates opportunities for Indian Country’s farmers and ranchers to incorporate Native and traditional foods in school and after-school feeding programs,” said Zach Ducheneaux, Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council and Co-Chair of the Native Farm Bill Coalition.

You can access full text of the legislation here.