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Impact Story March 2024

PHL-CNF Awards $400,000 towards supporting childcare businesses that utilize CACFP

When you close your eyes and think about nutritious food, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s a cherished meal, steeped in nostalgia or sentimentality. Maybe it’s the iconic food pyramid. For many child care workers, it is the decades-old Child Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP. This program, first implemented in 1968, has grown to have a huge impact not just on the meals provided by child care programs but also on their budgets and finances.

At Reinvestment Fund, we believe access to nutritious foods is a fundamental building block of a healthy, joyful life.

However, in Philadelphia as of 2019, nearly a quarter of children (24.2%) face food insecurity, a 66% surge above the national average. Hispanic, and non-Hispanic Black residents with financial insecurities are disproportionately affected due to socioeconomic disparities and limited access to nutritious foods in certain neighborhoods.

The Philadelphia Child Nutrition Fund (PHL-CNF), through the continued support of the William Penn Foundation, offers resources to organizations working to expand the availability of fresh and nutritious food to children through federal child nutrition programs in Philadelphia. In late 2023 and early 2024, Reinvestment Fund made an investment of over $400,000 towards supporting childcare businesses that utilize CACFP.

This investment will go towards ensuring over 10,000 meals are provided for children in Philadelphia per week. This year’s PHL-CNF award was developed through extensive community engagement and with an eye towards equity, ensuring all programs participating in CACFP could apply and grant funds were designed to best meet their needs. In all, 83 programs received funding.

 
 

Based on the Reinvestment Fund’s Limited Supermarket Access (LSA) Analysis, residents in several West Philadelphia neighborhoods frequently face challenges accessing healthy food due financial insecurity and a lack of affordable food options. West Philadelphia is an area characterized by the LSA as “low access score” area where people often must travel nearly twice the distance to reach a full-service supermarket compared to residents in similar areas with higher incomes.

We invited two of this year’s grantees based in Southwest Philadelphia to share the challenges they face to provide nutritious meals. The funding provided by PHL-CNF and CACFP not only alleviates the financial strain on families but also ensures that children receive nutritious meals while in their care. However, that barriers child care providers face to accessing and utilizing CACFP are often misunderstood.

 
 

CACFP supports Little Darling Child Care’s low-income students by providing access to nutritious meals and snacks during their time at the Center.

Laverne Cheesboro is the owner and operator of Heavenly Made Creations, a family childcare program located in Southwest Philadelphia. Her program has been in operation for over 10 years. Laverne first started with CACFP to receive some financial assistance in preparing healthy, home-cooked meals. As time has gone on and the reimbursements offered by CACFP have remained stagnant, Laverne has struggled to understand the true goal of CACFP.

“It’s called a reimbursement, but that is the wrong definition. Giving me 20 cents on a meal is not a reimbursement, nothing in stores cost 20 cents anymore,” Laverne said about the current state of the program.

CACFP offers a tiered form of reimbursement, determined by the child’s family income and the type of childcare program. For family childcare providers like Laverne, an additional two-tier system exists based on geographical income and owner income. Family Child Care businesses already receive lower rates of reimbursement, however, businesses designated as Tier 2 receive substantially less per meal. The Keeping Kids Fed Act of 2022 alleviated some of these challenges, providing all CACFP participants an additional 10 cents per meal and eliminating the tiered system for Family Child Care. Unfortunately, this Act expired in the summer of 2023 resulting in a significant loss of income for participants, especially Family Child Care businesses.

Geeta Nayyar is the Director of Little Darlings Childcare Center, a large childcare center located in Southwest Philadelphia. Little Darlings has been in operation for over two decades and currently care for over 140 children. Little Darlings first became a CACFP participant out of a desire to provide children nutritious meals. “CACFP supports Little Darling Child Care’s low-income students by providing access to nutritious meals and snacks during their time at the Center,” Geeta stated in her discussion on CACFP.

Although Centers can access higher reimbursement rates, they still feel the pinch of rising grocery prices and find the reimbursement rates too low to make significant impact on their costs, not to mention the additional administrative burdens Centers must manage. “The reimbursement process can be cumbersome and time consuming, requiring meticulous record-keeping and documentation to ensure compliance with program requirements. Delays in reimbursement can strain the financial resources of childcare providers,” Geeta mentioned.

 
 

Programs like PHL-CNF help cover those capital costs—for Laverne it was repairs for her kitchen cabinets and counters, for Geeta new appliances.

“No it isn’t easy, but you all [child care providers] are bosses. You all can take this challenge on,” Alana Jones, national CACFP expert, shares with a group of Philadelphia-based childcare business owners. Alana was invited as a part of this year’s PHL-CNF program to share her expertise and knowledge with Philadelphia Childcare Business Owners so they can learn best practices when utilizing CACFP funding. Throughout her session, she points out the challenges of CACFP but always circles back to remind the business owners that even though the administrative burdens may be challenging at time, it may mean one more child gets the nutritious meal they need.

She points out the ways in which the reimbursement, though low, can still make a substantial impact on the business’s financial well-being. The reimbursement rates are not the only challenges. Child care businesses participating in CACFP must meet a variety of regulations and standards, frequently many of which involve expensive kitchen upgrades and appliances. Programs like PHL-CNF help cover those capital costs—for Laverne it was repairs for her kitchen cabinets and counters, for Geeta new appliances.

By reducing the capital expenses for the program, we help business owners increase the stream of income (though small) from CACFP reimbursement. Alana’s call to action is a reminder that we all can do our part in supporting these business owners, whether it is through creating programs like PHL-CNF, advocating for a better approach to CACFP funding, or both…we can all take part in helping support children accessing nutritious food.

Initiatives like the PHL-NCF reflect a commitment to strengthening CACFP and maximizing its impact on the lives of children and families. By working collaboratively with federal agencies and community partners, we can continue to build upon the success of CACFP and create a brighter future for our children.

Visit our page to learn more about how you can support CACFP and the PHL-Nutrition Fund.

Help us advocate for improved CACFP access and funding!

We know that the current CACFP system needs improvement. Providers and families continue to advocate for these changes, and we are asking you all to join us as we remind legislators that children need healthy food and the child care workers supporting them need a better system for accessing that food.

This year, CACFP funding is at risk. Advocating for CACFP funding will help efforts to expand access to CACFP in underserved communities and ensure that all eligible child care providers have the opportunity to participate in the program.

With the reintroduction of the Early Childhood Nutrition Improvement Act & the Child Care Nutrition Enhancement Act we can begin to make those changes. Add your name in support here.

 

To Learn More, Contact:

 
 
Jacob Kurtz
Program Manager, Early Childhood Education

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