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Senate passes child nutrition bill

The Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on Thursday, a bill that provides an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years to federal child nutrition programs including school lunch. If signed into law, it will be the first time that the federal government has increased funding for the programs in 30 years.

The bill was bipartisan and fully paid for. But advocates, led by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), had battled to find time for a vote in an intensely busy legislative period. On Monday, Michelle Obama, a strong proponent of school lunch reform, called for the Senate to act in an op-ed in The Washington Post. In the end, the bill was passed through a process known as unanimous consent, where all 100 senators agreed to pass the bill without a voice vote.

Unanimous consent is not often employed for high-profile and high-cost bills.

“The Senate bill changes the school food landscape in ways that are all positive,” said Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, a public health advocacy group in Washington. “Put simply, it will get junk food out of, and put more healthy food into, America’s schools. Chairman Blanche Lincoln and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss deserve credit for forging a bipartisan agreement on the bill and for fighting to secure a vote despite a crowded Senate schedule.”

A range of advocates including the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United Fresh Produce Association also expressed support.

The bill allocates $1.2 billion to increase the number of children receiving food, an effort to meet President Obama's pledge to end childhood hunger by 2015. The remaining $3.2 billion would be used to improve the quality of school meals. This includes an extra 6 cents per meal per student for schools that meet new, stricter nutrition standards and funding for schools to establish school gardens and to source local foods.

The bill also 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. Standards for so-called "competitive foods," which have been controversial in previous years. Some school districts argued that the money earned from vending machines and a la carte lines helped to support sports and arts programs. Food companies were concerned about losing access to millions of schoolchildren.

The House of Representatives would need to pass its version of the bill in time for President Obama to sign the legislation before Sept. 30, when it is set to expire, or the programs risk losing the newly found funding. Nancy Pelosi has called the chamber back to Washington next week to finish work on a $26 billion plan to prevent the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers and other public workers. The House is not expected, however, to take up the child nutrition bill until after the August recess.

Update: Rep. George Miller (D -- Calif.), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee that drafted the House's child nutrition legislation, released a statement commending the Senate for its "important step forward." He did not announce a timeline for a vote in the lower chamber.

In a statement released this afternoon, Michelle Obama commended the the Senate for its leadership. "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," she said.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  August 5, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Food Politics  | Tags: Jane Black, Michelle Obama, school lunch  
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Well, it's not the first time the federal government has increased funding for these programs in 30 years. Funding for school meals increases virtually every year to compensate for increases in the cost of living. For example, in the current year, the federal payment for a fully reimbursible school lunch was scheduled to rise automatically from $2.68 to $2.72. This is simply the first increase of its kind implimented in 30 years by an act of Congress.

Posted by: euclidarms | August 5, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

I am sure Michelle and her husband will donate all the royalties from any current and future book deals to help pay for the $4.5 billion.

Posted by: cautious | August 6, 2010 5:33 AM | Report abuse

Not even the most reactionary Senator tried to stall this bill: they couldn't deal with the reputation of shaking kids down for their milk-money.Not so some of the norglers here.

That right, cautious, there must be a way to twist this story to find something negative to say against the first lady. If she's for it, cautious wants to go on record as against it. Come on, you can do better than complain about "future royalties". How about a rant claiming that milk is unconstitutional, cause Madison never mentioned it, and what's not in the constitution . . .


Posted by: chrisbrown12 | August 6, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

Every school district in my state has a professional nutritionist on staff. Apparantly, these professionally trained employees are so incompetent, it's up to Michelle Obama to do their jobs for them. This is a COMPLETE WASTE of taxpayer dollars to solve a problem that does not exist. The high school in my city has a salad bar that rivals any steak house in town.

Why should this surprise anyone? Neither of the Obamas know anything about what is going on in our schools. Mr. Obama actually got up post-election and told us that if we didn't fork over billions more for education -- the economy couldn't recover. Yes, this is the word-for-word argument he made. Never mind that Bush had already doubled the money spent on education -- more money is always the solution.

Posted by: RMarvel | August 6, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I love Michele Obama! It is a crime what we feed our kids in lunchroom cafeterias. With 1/3 of American children obese, this is an urgent issue. Get those unhealthy fats and sugars out of our schools. It will effect their lifespan as well as attention span.

Posted by: hotpoet66 | August 6, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

RMarvel-- I don't know what city you live in or what district this high school is that has a salad bar, but you shouldn't assume that is the norm in public schools. This is in fact a big issue for many schools and for many of our children. It isn't true that every school has a nutritionist and in fact, the majority of schools do not even have a kitchen in which to prepare fresh foods. It costs money to serve healthy foods and most schools do not have it in their budgets.

Can you imagine what it will cost us in insurance premiums and taxes to care for these obese children when they grow up and become disabled adults? You better start imagining it. Trust me a healthy school lunch is the least expensive route.

Posted by: hotpoet66 | August 6, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

While Congressmen hypocritically trumpet this minor piece of legislation, they never once talked about repealing the HUGE corn subsidies that flood the market with diabetes- and obesity-causing corn-syrup products.

It's disgusting to see Congress continually act against the interests of ordinary Americans, just so they can keep riding the gravy-train of "campaign donations" from big-money industry donors.

Posted by: kcx7 | August 6, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the President needs to look into changing the school calendar so that school cafeterias can offer fresh fruits and veggies, which are available during the summer months, to the kids instead of sugary syrup and salt-saturated canned foods.
It's kind of counter-productive to initiate a new nutritional school food program when the best food for the kids is available during the summer months when they're not in school.

Posted by: momof20yo | August 6, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

"This includes an extra 6 cents per meal per student for schools that meet new, stricter nutrition standards and funding for schools to establish school gardens and to source local foods"

How much healthy food can you buy for an 'extra 6 cents per meal'? A school garden is a great (but also kind of naive) idea. Who is going to do the daily gardening work, who's keep the kids out of the garden, what expensive fence is going to keep the neighborhood from pilfering 'freebies' from the garden when they think can just 'cause their tax dollars paid for it? New staff will need to be hired and that will take money away from healthy food purchases. It's better just to buy from the local farmers market---and help a struggling farmer.

"End childhood hunger by 2015"? That, too, sounds good during a State of the Union speech, but how would that be done? How can the President stop some poor welfare parent, or a drug-addicted parent, from 'selling' their food stamps instead of using them to buy healthy food for their family?

Posted by: momof20yo | August 6, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Hasn't anybody heard of "personal responsiblity" or "parental responsibility?"

Here's where the money goes- Illegal aliens and their rug-rats. YES, AGE IS NOT A REQUIREMENT!!!

Check it out...,0,6438591.story

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | August 6, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Regardless what everyone says ,so far, I for one really appreciate the fact that NO ONE mention what the drug addict, Rush ,said about the senate passing the bill due to the us slavery. I didn't read it and it seems that no one else read it either. That guy not only is a bigot but stupid and sick to boot. That was a dumb statement and without any connections to nothing.

Posted by: vjbus | August 6, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

"Why should this surprise anyone? Neither of the Obamas know anything about what is going on in our schools."

If you want to throw stiones at the Obamas, the least you should do is to check your subject-verb agreement. The subject in the quoted sentence above is the indefinite pronoun neither.

Posted by: leahk3 | August 7, 2010 2:30 AM | Report abuse

This program is a step forward - but it cuts into the funding for the food stamp program, which helps entire families. I keep hoping for programs that help kids and others without taking from those who desperately need help. It is like taking from Peter to help Paul - and in this case it is the needy families who are the ones who will suffer.

Posted by: Utahreb | August 7, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Chris Brown is a lobbyist for the Con Agra.

Posted by: cautious | August 7, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I suggest a tax on alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and illegal drug money to pay for the cost of food for the needy. Money for these products takes away from food for children in need.

Posted by: shuttdlrl | August 8, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

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