Continuing to Keep Kids Equitably Fed Through Child Care

By Patience Lightfoot*

With the expiration of the Keep Kids Fed Act of 2022 (KKFA), meal security is once again under threat for young children in many ways, including for family child care homes that participate in the Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP). At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress established an area eligibility waiver that allowed all family child care homes to qualify for Tier 1 reimbursements, or the highest level of compensation available, regardless of where they were located. Before this, participating family child care programs qualified for either Tier 1 or Tier 2 reimbursements based on the number of households with low incomes in their area. This waiver was crucial in working to address inequities; Tier 1 represents compensation for lower-income areas, and Tier 2 reimbursements can be up to 50 percent less than Tier 1. Unfortunately, this waiver expired on June 30, 2023, resulting in new challenges for family child care providers and the families they serve.

The waiver extension and subsequent 10-cent additional reimbursement rate increase included in the KKFA were critical and necessary improvements praised by advocates for ensuring that all family child care providers received the maximum reimbursements. However, now that the KKFA has expired, even Tier 1 reimbursements are not high enough to ensure that providers are able to offer high-quality meals. Thirty percent of providers struggle to meet the program’s minimum nutrition requirements with the funding they receive. Therefore, it is vital that Congress not only makes the change to the tiers permanent, but also enacts additional transformative changes to the program to ensure our nation’s youngest children have high-quality, nutritious meals needed to promote healthy development, secure full participation in their learning and education, and help minimize the impacts of food insecurity that their families may be experiencing.

Center-based providers don’t have the same requirements of the tier system that family child care programs do. Instead, their reimbursement is based on their children’s eligibility for paid, reduced-price, or free meals. While centers still face issues participating in CACFP, the lack of tiered reimbursement rates ensures more consistency in the funding they receive. Family child care programs should also have a more streamlined and consistent funding system for providing meals to the children in their care. These programs are a valuable care option for families with low incomes and families of color as they often are more affordable, more likely to provide non-traditional hour care, and may offer more culturally and linguistically responsive practices. Therefore, the tiered system family child care providers must use can further exacerbate systemic inequities for these families.

The expiration of KKFA means that eligible family child care providers have experienced decreased reimbursement rates for meals and snacks, with Tier 2 showing greater losses than Tier 1. Now that the 10-cent increase has been eliminated, continuing to work on policy improvements that will keep kids equitably fed through child care is more important than ever. Congress must increase its investment in CACFP, remove the tier system, increase reimbursement rates, and support other improvements that will make the program more accessible. CLASP has joined many partner organizations in calling on legislators to prolong KKFA waivers for an additional year and to step in to prevent providers from feeling the loss of such funding. No matter the child care setting, all young children deserve access to nutritious meals that promote healthy development and growth. And all child care providers deserve to be able to provide these meals without the stress of whether they can afford it.

*Patience Lightfoot is a student at Oklahoma State University and served as a Zero Hunger Intern on the Child Care and Early Education Team at CLASP this summer. The team is grateful for her important contributions.