Since 2012, thousands of California’s children have lost access to healthy meals in child care. For over 30 years, the state supplemented the cost of serving healthy and nutritious meals to low-income children in child care facilities through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Many of the children who lost access to nutritious foods in 2012 were, and are, right here in Los Angeles County.
It is well known that California has a high-cost of living, and Los Angeles is one of the state’s priciest regions at 48% above the U.S. average. Los Angeles is in one of the most expensive counties, in one of the most expensive states, yet it receives the same amount in federal reimbursements for healthy foods as states with lower costs of living. California’s supplemented reimbursements are crucial to ensuring nutritious food accessibility for our state’s children.
As a Head Start Nutrition Consultant in Los Angeles, I work regularly with underserved communities. I can say firsthand that since funding was cut, the health of our children and families has suffered. Thousands of Angelenos face the daily burden of affording healthy food for themselves and their families – despite working full-time jobs, and parents rely heavily on meals provided in child care when they work long hours to make ends meet.
When CACFP funds were cut, nutritious food was no longer an option for thousands of children in child care in Los Angeles county. This equates to two to three poor quality meals per day, five days a week. Since the cut, nearly 200 care centers dropped from the healthy food program because they can no longer afford to provide quality meals with the federal reimbursement alone. The majority of providers are in low-income or rural areas.
This has left many families and child care providers without healthy food options. Facilities cannot raise rates on families who are already financially strapped, and families cannot afford to send their children to daycare with healthy meals from home, since they often struggle to afford quality food themselves. In the year following the cut, centers reported losing on average $8,270, but not feeding a child is not an option. As a result, children are fed less expensive and less nutrient-dense processed food.
Everyone should have access to quality food, especially children, who are growing and require nutrients for development. Sadly, this isn’t a reality for low-income children in our county. Instead, they are being fed high-calorie processed food that can lead to serious and costly health conditions like obesity and diabetes – epidemics that already plague low-income communities.
Parents see the difference and children feel the difference. On a daily basis I see prepackaged, processed, calorically dense foods served to children who already struggle with weight. This places a burden on their body, development, and mental health.
If there is any state with an abundance of agriculture and healthy food options, it is California. Yet those healthy options are out of reach for 20,000 children who come from low-income families. Hunger and malnutrition is a poverty and equity problem, and it is time for our state to Rise Up As One to right this wrong, because every child living here is our responsibility.
Subsidizing meals served to eligible kids in child care will improve diets, help children achieve healthy body weight, and reduce their risk of developing costly health conditions. Every dollar spent is a dollar saved in future healthcare costs, but more importantly, all kids deserve the opportunity to be healthy. Child care centers want to provide children with quality food that supports development, and they want to be a part of the program, but California’s leaders did not reinstate supplemental funding for CACFP in the most recent budget. Until they do, nutritious food will remain inaccessible for many child care providers and the kids they serve.