House Ed & Labor passes child nutrition bill
The House Education and Labor Committee today, July 27, passed a bill to reauthorize child nutrition programs.
The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act would reauthorize and update federal child nutrition programs including school and summer meals, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
The committee advanced H.R. 8450, the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, by a vote of 27 to 20, with no Republicans supporting it.
The bill’s name follows the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which passed in 2010 when then-First Lady Michelle Obama championed it due to its improvements in school meals programs. Congress has not reauthorized child nutrition programs since 2010, and the programs have continued operating through appropriations. A key nutrition lobbyist said floor action on the bill is unlikely until after the August recess. The Senate Agriculture Committee has not released a bill, and the lobbyist said movement in the Senate is complicated by the attempts of some senators to include community eligibility provisions and summer food provisions in a reconciliation bill.
“One of the key lessons reaffirmed by our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that, when we invest in child nutrition programs, we help reduce child hunger. Still, we have more work ahead to achieve our ultimate goal — eliminating child hunger in America,” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Va., said in a statement after the markup. “To do so, we must ensure that federal child nutrition programs have the resources they need to feed children. The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act takes long overdue steps to deliver on that goal by modernizing proven child nutrition programs and providing more children and families with access to nutrition assistance. This is a critical opportunity to help fulfill our basic responsibility to keep children from going hungry.”
Scott said the bill would:
▪ Expand access to school meals by making it easier for schools to use the Community Eligibility Provision;
▪ Lower the cost of school meals programs for school districts by increasing the reimbursement rate and providing breakfast commodity support;
▪ Expand WIC eligibility from age 5 to age 6;
▪ Strengthen the food program for children in child care; and
▪ Increase food aid during the summer by providing transportation assistance to food distribution sites and creating more sites in low- to middle-income neighborhoods.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., ranking member on the committee, urged her colleagues to vote against the bill.
“H.R. 8450, the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, is another bill that misses the mark. Instead of funding targeted need-based programs, this bill would create bloated and extraneous programs at the expense of taxpayers. Spending more is not the way to ensure these programs are meeting the intended purpose of feeding kids in need,” Foxx said in an opening statement.
She continued, “Ever since we passed Democrats’ last nutrition bill, schools have been struggling with the standards and excessive requirements. In fact, USDA had to issue multiple waivers because schools were unable to meet the bill’s unrealistic demands. Schools are just now getting back to normal, post-pandemic, but have yet to operate fully under the new programs. We need to give these schools a chance to learn what is and is not working before we add new requirements.
“Rushing another reauthorization of our child nutrition programs is not the answer. We need more time. Time to see how these programs actually work, time to assess their impact before we change them or layer even more requirements on schools. Rushing to score political points before November is no reason to weigh schools down with more unnecessary standards, reports, and programs.
“Lastly, this bill will cost taxpayers billions of dollars when inflation is the highest it has been in 40 years. Pushing plant-based pilot programs, adding new grants for scratch cooking, and expanding multiple other programs are ridiculous when schools are facing inflation and supply chain crises. Can the majority assure us that the spending in this bill won’t make inflation worse? As the House of Representatives, we are entrusted with the power of the purse — this is an important duty. If we are going to throw more money at programs just because special interest groups ask us to, we are not taking our responsibility to taxpayers seriously.”
Foxx said the bill:
▪ Spends billions of taxpayer dollars.
▪ Makes already difficult-to-run meal programs even more complicated for schools.
▪ Expands free meals to the wealthy.
▪ Hijacks school meal program to push leftist agenda.
▪ Bows to Big Labor by encouraging food purchases from unionized farms.
▪ Fails to address the infant formula shortage.
Nutrition groups immediately praised the committee action.
The School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service directors and companies that make school food, said, “SNA appreciates the committee’s work to advance child nutrition reauthorization and urges Congress to bring the bill to the floor for debate. The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act takes key steps to expand student access to free, nutritious meals, while providing critical funds to support school meal programs.”
Today, SNA did not mention its opposition to some of the strict nutrition provisions in the bill that it has noted earlier.
The American Heart Association said, “The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act will play an important role in addressing food and nutrition insecurity facing so many families across the country.
“Congress must work to ensure a final bill includes key provisions to:
▪ Protect and strengthen nutrition standards that ensure the food kids eat is healthy.
▪ Expand access to school meals to more children.
▪ Increase reimbursement for school meal programs to help ease the financial burden schools are facing.
▪ Bolster and grow summer feeding programs that prevent kids from going hungry outside of school.
▪ Modernize and improve the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.”
Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy for the National WIC Association (NWA), noted that the bill includes three bipartisan, bicameral bills to “expand postpartum eligibility, close the WIC to Six gap, allow for remote certifications and improve transparency in the infant formula bidding process.”
Dittmeier added, “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, phone and video appointments have remedied long-standing barriers to access and contributed to a 10% increase in child participation.” He praised the committee for incorporating those services in the bill. “But with remote services hanging in the balance through extensions of the public health emergency, it is time for the Senate to take the baton and advance this process to achieve permanent reforms,” he said.
The National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association said the bill “includes provisions to provide increased access and maintain existing access to healthful dairy foods.”
Friends of the Earth noted that the bill includes a new pilot grant program (Section 604. Plant-Based Foods in Schools) modeled after legislation sponsored by Reps. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., and Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., the Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act, which it said “would provide healthy, climate-friendly plant-based meals in our nation’s public schools.”
FOE said, “Other provisions (Section 1001. Accommodating Dietary Requirements) would give parents more control over their child’s diet and allow schools to better accommodate students who are unable to process lactose or cannot consume dairy. Because specific populations of color have high levels of lactose intolerance, this provision was championed by leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Both of these provisions included in the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act will help schools overcome several of the barriers to serving healthy, culturally appropriate, and climate-friendly lunches.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to Colorado on Tuesday and Wednesday for events with Democratic Sens. Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Gov. Jared Polis, also a Democrat.
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