Young children’s healthy development is dependent on a number of important factors that support physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. In addition to the proven benefits of high-quality early childhood education, health, nutrition and other comprehensive services play a crucial role in preparing young children to thrive in school and life.
Many families face barriers to accessing healthy, nutritious, and age-appropriate foods, which are essential for healthy brain and physical development. In 2020, 15.3% of children under 6 lived in households affected by food insecurity. These rates are higher for households headed by a single parent, as well as African Americans and Hispanic families. The results of poor diets in early childhood, beginning with pregnancy, can have long-lasting negative effects for children, as well as costly downstream health care investments.
People facing food insecurity during pregnancy are more likely to experience birth complications, and children who experience food insecurity as infants and toddlers are more likely to have lower levels of cognitive and social-emotional skills at kindergarten entry. Food insecurity in the preschool years is also correlated with higher levels of behavior problems and obesity in early childhood and adulthood. Improving nutrition for young children improves health and prevents costly and dangerous public health issues, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Several federally-funded programs help families and early care and education programs meet young children’s nutritional needs, including the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Created in 1968, CACFP is a federal program that provides funds for children in a variety of settings to access the quality nutrition they need to succeed. Children in daycare centers, Head Start classrooms, in-home care, emergency shelters, and after-school programs all benefit from CACFP funding. Each day, CACFP reimbursements provide more than 4.2 million children experiencing food-insecurity with nutritious meals and snacks. CACFP program expenditures were $3 billion in FY2020.
Many providers struggled with declined or temporarily interrupted revenues due to COVID-19 related closures or restrictions. To help aid recovery, The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act provided $390 billion to The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for FY2021 to remain available through FY2024. Through the CACFP Emergency Operational Costs Reimbursement Program, the FNS offered additional funds to state agencies administering the CACFP program to provide local operators with additional reimbursements for emergency operating costs they incurred during the public health emergency. Emergency funding for CACFP sponsors and providers was equal to 55% of reimbursement loss.