When we talk about legislative policy, we are talking about policy in terms of working with Congress and other elected officials. These are policies that are set forth in bills such as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNR). Congress sets rules in these bills that USDA must implement. For example, when Congress passed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) in 2010, they stated that USDA had to change the meal patterns to better align with the updated dietary guidelines set forth in the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) report. Then USDA determined what those regulations were going to be through the process required of making new regulations (Proposed Rule ---> Comment ---> Final Rule).
Another important note is that changes in reimbursement amounts (and how those are determined) or the meals that can be reimbursed (adding an additional meal for reimbursement) are also set forth by Congress, which is legislative policy. So, for these types of things we work with Congressional members to advise and educate them about the food program, its impact, and what can be done by Congress to make it better.
Now, regulatory policy are the specific rules we have to follow to administer the CACFP. The oversight agencies such as USDA and the state are the agencies that we, as a community, work with. As we better understand best practices, successes and challenges on the ground thoughtfully, create the regulation that needs to be followed, as shown through their work on the new meal pattern implementation.
Why Know the Difference?
It is important to the know difference between these two types of policy making for the CACFP. If we don't know the difference then we ask the wrong set of policy makers for the wrong things. For example, when the reimbursement rates are published, it does not help anyone to flood USDA with complaints about the fact that they are too low. USDA is following regulation set forth by Congress. Only Congress can change the way reimbursement rates are set. So elected officials are the people we need to talk to about an additional meal, reimbursement rates or additional administrative dollars. On the other hand, if you are in a meeting with your elected official, it isn't going to help you to tell them the details of the whole-grain or milk requirements and how that might be impacting your program. This is something to talk to your state agency or USDA about because it is regulatory policy set forth by USDA's rules.