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A National School Food Program in federal Budget 2024, and next steps for the Coalition

Updated: May 10

by: Carolyn Webb, Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator





























On April 16, 2024, the Canadian government took a historic initiative by including an investment of $1 billion over 5 years for a national school food program in the federal budget. The Coalition for Healthy School Food welcomed the announcement, which is the result of decades of grassroots advocacy and ten years of work since the Coalition’s formation in 2014. This blog post provides analysis about what was included in the budget and what it means.


To start, the Coalition was pleased that all three of our pre-budget requests were included in the budget: (1) a federal investment of $1 billion over 5 years; (2) dedicated funding for Indigenous school food programs; and (3) funding for school food infrastructure. 


Specifically the budget language stated: 


Page 111 / Section 2.2: “Budget 2024 announces the creation of a National School Food Program, which will provide $1 billion over five years to Employment and Social Development Canada, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, and Indigenous Services Canada, starting in 2024-25, to work with provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners to expand access to school food programs. This includes investments for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities as well as Self-Governing and Modern Treaty Partners, many of whom have some of the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada.”


Page 134 / end of Section 2: Budget amounts per year: Per fiscal year (April-March) the budget allocates $79 million in the 2024-25 fiscal year, $201 million in 2025-26, $218 million in 2026-27, $241 million in 2027-28 and $261 million in 2028-29.

 

Page 141 / Section 3.1: “As part of the government’s work to end food insecurity, Budget 2024 proposes to provide $62.9 million over three years, starting in 2024-25, to renew and expand the Local Food Infrastructure Fund to support community organizations across Canada to invest in local food infrastructure, with priority to be given to Indigenous and Black communities, along with other equity-deserving groups. Part of the expansion will support community organizations to improve infrastructure for school food programs as a complement to the National School Food Program.”

 

Page 405 speaks to how the federal government will sign bilateral agreements with provinces and territories: “In Budget 2024, the government proposes to provide a statutory appropriation authority in the Budget Implementation Act that would enable the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to sign bilateral agreements and transfer funding to provinces and territories to support National School Food programming for the 2024-2025 school year.” This means that the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development will be able to quickly move forward with negotiating agreements with the Provinces and Territories, similar to the Early Learning and Child Care Agreements.


The Coalition was also pleased with the budget’s recognition of the multiple benefits of a National School Food Program. The Statement and Impacts Report on Gender, Diversity and Inclusion (page 5): states that A National School Food Program would improve dietary quality and reduce health inequities. Currently one in four children in Canada, experience food insecurity. While this program would primarily support children, there is also a gendered impact for parents, as women typically invest more time and money preparing food for school. It is estimated that a program covering breakfast and lunch would save participating families up to $800 per year, with lower-income families seeing proportionally greater benefits.”


The budget details and most of the language reflect the Coalition’s recommendations. To learn more about what the Coalition has been advocating for, please reference our 2024 pre-budget submission, Proposals for a National School Nutritious Meal Program, and Frequently Asked Questions.


At the same time, we would have liked to see more language in the budget on the health and educational benefits of a National School Food Program for all children rather than its focus on food insecurity. Though school food programs can support families by relieving some pressure from household grocery budgets, they are not a replacement for robust income supports. As PROOF’s Tim Li and Valerie Tarasuk say: “As the federal government builds a Canada-wide early learning and child care system and now a national school food program, it must also make the CCB (Canada’s Child Benefit) a more effective social safety net.” As well, $1 billion over five years, or roughly $200 million a year, is insufficient funding for a universal program, and we will be urging the government to grow the program so that it reaches all Canadian children and youth.


We know that there will be a lot of work ahead. Once the National School Food Policy is released, we will be encouraging provinces and territories to sign agreements to receive federal funding. We will also need to advocate for more funding, both at the federal levels and from provinces and territories who have not made recent increases, so that the program reaches all children and youth across the country (see our blog post about current provincial and territorial investments). We will also continue working on getting decision makers / everyone to understand the broad benefits of school food programs, rather than framing school food as reducing household food insecurity, advocating for and shifting the narrative towards a universal school food program that focuses on health and learning outcomes for all students and the impacts beyond the cafeteria.  In the meantime we will celebrate the National School Food Program  as an important step for Canada.  



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