Each year, Missouri’s 24 YMCA associations serve over 130,000 children through our various programs and services. Prior to the pandemic, our Ys annually served over 500,000 healthy meals and snacks to almost 14,000 children.
The past 18 months have brought an even greater need for healthy meals and snacks for Missouri’s kids. Missouri’s Ys responded to this challenge by offering new food programs around the state which were made possible due to waivers provided by the federal government. These waivers provided us with greater flexibility and efficiency in feeding kids and families.
As we began looking ahead past these waivers, our attention turned to advocating for changes that would allow Ys and other organizations to continue to feed kids in a more direct and efficient manner. We also recognized the need to continue our advocacy efforts to highlight the issue of food security in our state.
One such change we sought this past legislative session was to make it easier to feed kids outside of a licensed after-school program. We frequently have school-aged kids in our facilities who play ball, do homework, and overall, count on us as a safe environment after school.
We wanted to make sure that we could continue to serve as a safe environment while also responding to the nutritional needs of the children in our care. In order to provide healthy snacks and meals through the Children and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) for at-risk youth, we need federal reimbursement to make this possible. One obstacle we faced was additional state requirements to the federal minimum standards for participation in the program.
On July 15, Governor Parson signed HB 432, which will allow Missouri Ys that meet minimum federal eligibility requirements to participate in the at-risk Child and Adult Food Program (CACFP). Ys will be able to provide meals in their facilities to youth as long as minimum health and safety standards are met.
This omnibus bill has several provisions that were especially important to our YMCAs and our statewide healthy eating and active living advocacy work.
HB 432 Provisions
HB 432 establishes a 25-member Missouri Food Security Task Force. The task force will identify ways to connect resources and individuals in an effort to ensure food security for all Missourians, and evaluate strategies to improve collaboration and efficiencies in federal and state nutrition safety programs. The task force will report to the governor and General Assembly before August 28 of each year.
HB 432 extends the opportunity for the state to implement a program that would provide incentives for people purchasing local produce using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at local farmers markets.
HB 432 requires that the Department of Social Services submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a “Farm to Food Bank Project” in partnership with a qualified food bank.
HB 432 allows the Missouri Department of Agriculture to apply for a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program. This will allow pregnant and postpartum women to obtain food at eligible farmers markets.
The legislative process for this particular bill and the advocacy efforts that accompany it are always a learning process. Here are some key takeaways we had from this past year.
- Identify examples and stories to share with legislators. Our testimony in committee hearings and when visiting with legislators was made more compelling because we could highlight how this policy change would help in our efforts to feed more kids.
- Connect with legislative champions. We were fortunate to have Representative Kurtis Gregory and Senator Eric Burlison file bills related to CACFP. Both served as strong advocates for us, and worked hard during the session to get this language added to HB 432.
- Educate and connect with other partners. Getting a bill passed is a team effort. We made sure to inform other organizations who had similar interests about our bill, and were fortunate to have them testify in support during committee hearings.
- Identify amendments and substitute bills that mesh with your issue. The Y has a contract lobbyist who represents us in the Capitol, and can often identify legislative vehicles for our issues. Their efforts helped us recognize that HB 432 was becoming an omnibus bill for many similar issues, and they assisted in getting our language added to that bill.
- Be persistent and patient. The final weeks of any legislative session are often chaotic. It is important to keep advocating until the end.
We know this bill is not the answer to all the challenges we face regarding the equity of our food system in Missouri and our efforts to feed kids, but it is an encouraging start. Our focus will continue to be on advocating for positive changes where needed in Missouri, collaborating with our partners, and expanding our efforts to provide healthy snacks and meals to more kids in Missouri.