After a last-minute delay by Republicans, the House of Representatives has sent the Child Nutrition Bill to the President for his signature. The House vote was 264 to 157. The $4.5 billion bill increases the amount of money schools are reimbursed by 6 cents a meal making it possible for more needy children to eat free lunches at school and make those lunches healthier. The bill is identical to legislation passed by the Senate in August.
The legislation also gives the government the power to decide what kinds of foods could be sold and what ingredients may be limited in school lunch lines and vending machines. The Agriculture Department would create the standards, which would likely keep popular foods like hamburgers and pizza in school cafeterias but make them healthier, using leaner meat or whole wheat crust, for example. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie drinks.
The bill also provides money to serve more than 20 million additional after-school meals annually to children in all 50 states. Many of those children now only receive after-school snacks. It also increases the number of children eligible for school meals programs by at least 115,000, using Medicaid and census data to identify them.
In response to the passage Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says this is a historic victory for our nation's youngsters. Our national security, economic competitiveness and the health and wellness of our children will improve as a result of the action Congress took.
The bill upgrades nutritional standards for school meals; improves the nutritional quality of all food in schools; increases the number of eligible children enrolled in the school meals programs; enhances universal meal access for eligible children; provides more meals for at-risk children nationwide; and improves the quality of foods supplied to schools.
The legislation also empowers parents by requiring schools to make information more readily available to parents about the nutritional quality of school meals, as well as the results of any audits. It also improves WIC by making it easier for children to get recertified as eligible for the program.
The Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committe Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., says passage of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act puts us on a path toward improving the health of the next generation of Americans, and provides common-sense solutions to tackling childhood hunger and obesity.
Meanwhile, National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson says it is essential that we provide for the health and well-being of America's children, and this legislation accomplishes that goal. Johnson notes that the bill makes the largest investment in the child nutrition programs since their inception.