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H.R. 1066 (116th): American Food for American Schools Act of 2019


Should schools be able to buy food for school lunches from anywhere in the world, even if it’s cheaper that way? Or should a waiver be required to purchase from any foreign country?

Context

Sacramento Bee investigation and public records request revealed California school districts importing foods such as canned peaches from China for their school lunches, despite having not just one but four canned peach processing centers nearby. The Chinese alternatives were less expensive.

The National School Lunch Program, created in 1946, feeds about 30.4 million children. It was amended in 1998 to include a “Buy America” provision encouraging schools to purchase American foods and products for students “to the maximum extent practicable.”

However, these are only guidelines without the force of law.

What the bill does

The American Food for American Schools Act would strengthen the existing “Buy America” provision to the existing National School Lunch Program.

First, it would establish a waiver process for schools to purchase foreign food items, requiring permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Then the waiver would have to be publicly posted online, and emailed to parents or guardians of the students attending the school.

Only two conditions could suffice for a waiver to buy foreign foods. One is if the items are not sufficiently produced or reasonably available from American producers. The other is if the costs of the American product is “significantly” more expensive than its foreign alternative.

It was introduced on February 7 as bill number H.R. 1066 by Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA3).

What supporters and opponents say

Supporters argue the bill would do a better job of helping American farming and agricultural interests, ensuring that imported foods aren’t used except as a last resort.

“Even in Northern Californian and Central Valley farming communities, some school districts use taxpayer dollars to buy imported foods,” Rep. Garamendi said in a press release. “Some of those imported foods have been recalled due to safety concerns, when they could have been sourced locally in California.”

“That’s why my [bill] would ensure that our schoolchildren are served nutritious, American-grown foods, produced under the strictest safety standards in the world.”

Other are concerned that the bill could raise prices for local school districts. For example, the Chinese canned peaches cost $25.38 per case, while the domestic equivalent cost $33.01 per case: a +30% surcharge.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 19 House cosponsors: 13 Democrats and six Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee.

A previous version introduced in 2017 attracted a slightly larger 21 House cosponsors: 12 Democrats and nine Republicans. It never received a vote, nor did a companion Senate version. No Senate version has yet been introduced in the current Congress.

Last updated Apr 24, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 7, 2019.


American Food for American Schools Act of 2019

This bill requires school food authorities (SFAs) to request a waiver from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase foreign commodities or products for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). SFAs may purchase foreign commodities or products without a waiver if the commodities or products are not produced or available domestically.

(Under current law, Buy American provisions require SFAs to purchase, to the maximum extent practicable, domestic commodities or products for the NSLP. There are limited exceptions which permit the purchase of foreign products in circumstances when using domestic products is truly not practicable. If an SFA uses an exception, there is no requirement to request a waiver to purchase a foreign product or commodity, but the SFA must keep documentation justifying the exception.)

USDA may not provide a waiver for an SFA to purchase foreign commodities or products unless (1) the commodities or products are not produced domestically in sufficient amounts or of satisfactory quality, (2) the domestic commodities or products would be significantly higher in price than foreign commodities or products, and (3) the SFA agrees to make the waiver publicly available on its website and email a notification of the waiver to parents or guardians of students who will be served the foreign commodity or product purchased pursuant to the waiver.