Child Nutrition Bill Passes the Senate, Food Stamp Funding Takes Cut | Civil Eats

Child Nutrition Bill Passes the Senate, Food Stamp Funding Takes Cut

In a surprise move yesterday before heading out for five weeks of recess, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with unanimous consent, which means all 100 senators agreed to pass the bill without an individual vote. The bill allots an additional $4.5 billion dollars over ten years to fund federal child nutrition programs including school lunch.

First Lady Michelle Obama supported the bill as part of her Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity, writing in an op-ed in The Washington Post last week,”This groundbreaking legislation will bring fundamental change to schools and improve the food options available to our children.”

Though providing less than the requested $10 billion suggested by Let’s Move, this marks the first major step towards the most significant increase in funding on the child nutrition programs in 30 years. In a statement yesterday, the First Lady said, “While childhood obesity cannot be solved overnight, with everyone working together, there’s no question that it can be solved. And today’s vote moves us one step closer to reaching that goal.”

According to Jane Black at The Washington Post, the bill includes money for the establishment of school gardens and for sourcing local foods. In addition, the bill “would mandate that the Department of Agriculture develop nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, not just what is served in the lunch line,” which could mean eliminating “competitive foods” like soda and candy bars in vending machines and a la carte lines. This won’t be so easy for schools to swallow, as the money from these purchases is often used to fund sports and art programs.

The pressure to pass the bill is now on the House, which is officially on August recess, but will be reconvening next week to work on a jobs bill. However, according to Black, the chamber is not expected to take up the bill until after the August recess. In order for the new funding to become law, the House will need to pass its version of the bill, which currently calls for nearly double the funding (and reconcile it with the Senate’s version), in time for President Obama to sign the bill into law before September 30th, when the original funding is set to expire.

The Senate has promised to pay for their version of the bill with monies from other programs at the USDA. On the chopping block, for example, are food stamp benefits, or SNAP. $12 billion in additional SNAP benefits were set to come online in 2013, and have been mentioned as a potential source of funding for the jobs bill, among others. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) claimed that since these funds were already being co-opted, they might as well be used to pay for child nutrition. “I think it’s appropriate if these tax dollars are going to be spent that they’re spent on healthy food for kids,” she said.

Advocates have for the most part thrown their support behind the bill, even though what it offers equals around 6 cents per school meal, which wouldn’t even cover the cost of an apple per child per day. However, the added absurdity of taking food from the mouths of hungry families to give to hungry kids has gotten some groups riled up. The Community Food Security Coalition, made up of around 300 organizations, argues that “programs should not be paid for by cutting food benefits for low-income and disadvantaged Americans, regardless of the merits of those programs. Congress should not be voting to increase hunger.”

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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) agreed more or less with the sentiment in a statement released yesterday:

The legislation rids schools of junk food, issues proper alerts to schools when contaminations occur, guarantees all foster children access to school meals, connects farms to schools to supply them with fresh, local produce, and strengthens nutrition resources for children and young mothers. But if our children are ever going to truly succeed in the classroom and beyond, they need better access to healthy meals in the lunchroom, and this legislation falls short of that goal. Further, I’m disappointed that the bill is paid for in part with future funds from the critically important SNAP program. I will continue to fight for more common sense changes to the program and secure the investments we need to make sure every child can achieve their full potential.

Photo: a la corey

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Paula Crossfield is a founder and the Editor-at-large of Civil Eats. She is also a co-founder of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland. Read more >

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  1. If there had not been any increase in federal funding for child nutrition programs in 30 years, we really would be in dire straights. But there is an important distinction to be made here. In the school lunch programs, at least, funding increases automatically every year to adjust for the cost of living. In the coming year, for instance, funding for a fully-subsidized school lunch was scheduled to increase from $2.68 to $2.72. I'm not familiar with other nutrition programs. But I'd be surprised if they are not subject to similar funding mechanisms as well. What may be true is that Congress has not approved an increase legislatively. Still, why do we keep giving the U.S. Senate kudos for tossing a measly 6 cents toward school lunches, when the typical school currently loses 35 cents on every meal it serves? They should be ashamed.
  2. Barb Ridge
    School gardens? Oh, come on now. Who is going to tend these gardens? We will need to hire gardeners - from the local gardeners' union, no doubt - to oversee these plots. This bit of feel-good, accomplish-nil legislation will also put an end to some of the biggest funding activities for sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities; no more bake sales, cookie drives or selling of lunch room treats such as ice cream.

    All in all, it's going to be just another continuation of the Obamanation Nanny State. More in taxes, less in the way of freedom of choice.
  3. Julia DeWahl
    The Senate passed the Child Nutrition Bill because it had to - there is enough of a critical mass of people that strongly support changing the food landscape of America - and that's a wonderful thing. It's been exciting to see the momentum building in this movement, with everything from movies like Food, Inc. to Whole Foods to the spread of farmers markets. The bill is a positive step in the direction of federal funding for nutritious school lunches and a statement of acknowledgement that food policy is important.

    What I think is even more effective, however, is legislation at the state and city levels. State and local governments don't have the same type of pressure to legislate in favor of whatever is best for the food industry the way the federal government does. The politicians in Washington are so tied to the campaign money that the food industry provides, and have been wedded to mutually beneficial policies for so long, that it would be hard for them to stand up against the interests of the food industry right now. The state and local governments are more independent of the food industry, and thus yield more immediate power to educate the public on nutrition and food issues and promote more bombastic, revolutionary food policy. I'd love to see the next Food Policy Coordinator of the City of New York, for example, continue to push daring legislation and get New Yorkers up to speed on the importance of diet. I look forward to America's increasing consciousness about food issues and hope to see more food policy action on the state and local government level soon.

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