Houses Passes Sweeping Child Nutrition Reauthorization Legislation

Two thumbs up for the House! Passage of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” is a long needed step in the right direction. Since the days when President Ronald Regan allowed school lunch programs to consider ketchup a vegetable, we’ve fed kids some of the poorest quality meals available.

I grew up on a commodities lunch program that included an awful lot of peanut butter and cheese. The traditional commodity lunch program offered very limited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Kids in school today face a different kind of program – the “junk food lunch program” – and this legislation will require schools to apply nutritional standards to all the food served in the school, not just the cafeteria lunch.

Following is the full text of the announcement.

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  – The House of Representatives today approved legislation that will make historic and urgent improvements to the nation’s federal child nutrition programs. By a vote of 264 to 157, the House passed S. 3307, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, bipartisan legislation that the Senate unanimously approved in August. President Obama has indicated he plans to sign the bill in the coming days.

The legislation dramatically improves the quality of meals children eat in school and in child care, increases the number of healthy meals available to needy children and provides the first real increase in the Federal reimbursement rate for school lunches in more than 30 years. The legislation also eliminates junk food from schools by requiring schools, for the first time, to apply nutritional standards to food served outside the cafeteria.

“In a country as great as ours, no child should go hungry and all children deserve healthy meals. With this vote, today we make a commitment to the neediest children in our country, to the future of our country and to the millions of families who rely on the federal child nutrition programs as a nutritional safety net,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and original sponsor of the House version of the child nutrition legislation. “It’s a shame that the majority of Republicans put politics ahead of our children’s health and voted against this bill. They are standing on the wrong side of history. I hope it doesn’t foreshadow what is in store in the next Congress.”

This legislation answers President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to reduce childhood hunger and support school and community efforts to reduce childhood obesity. The First Lady has said that improvements to the child nutrition programs are a key pillar of her “Let’s Move” initiative to end childhood obesity. Studies show childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The Army estimates that over 27 percent of all Americans 17 to 24 years of age – more than nine million men and women – are too heavy to join the military.

Additionally, more than 16 million children are hungry and live in households where families struggle to put meals on the table.

The legislation will connect approximately 115,000 new students to the school meals programs by using Medicaid data to directly certify eligible children. It will also streamline the program and eliminate wasteful paperwork by enhancing universal meal access for eligible children in high poverty communities by using census data to determine school wide income eligibility. This provision will allow these schools to offer free meals to all students and eliminate the need to collect paper applications. By 2020, CBO estimates that roughly 2,500 schools will elect to participate.

The legislation improves and strengthens federal child nutrition programs, including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, school breakfast, school lunch, after school and summer meals and meals served in childcare settings. It would also ensure more children are able to eat local, healthy produce by helping communities establish farm to school networks, create school gardens and use more local foods.

It will make food safer by improving recall procedures and extending existing safety requirements to all places where school meals are prepared or served.

More than 1,500 organizations, representing health, hunger, faith-based groups, unions and parents, support the bill.

Photo credit: Ben+Sam, used with permission under Creative Commons license.

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