Child nutrition reauthorization advances in House

A bill to reauthorize federal child nutrition programs and roll back some of the First Lady’s prized healthy schools meal standards advanced in the House on Wednesday despite outcry from public health groups.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee passed the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 by a 20 to 14 vote, reauthorizing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

More than two-dozen amendments were offered during the markup, but only five survived. Democrats were trying to get more salad bars in schools, increase funding for the summer meal and WIC programs, and eliminate three-year reviews of nutrition standards, among other things. 

Democratic changes that passed will provide schools more flexibility in purchasing milk for students, allow the Agriculture secretary to consult pediatricians, dieticians and parents as when reviewing nutrition standards, and allow food stamps to be used in the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer pilot program.

The committee also approved an amendment from Rep Rick Allen (R-Ga.) that calls on the Agriculture Department to study how private-sector partnerships can improve child nutrition programs, as well a add-on from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) aimed at helping states better monitor the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Groups like the School Nutrition Association, however, are still upset by changes to the Community Eligibility Provision, a program that allows schools and local educational agencies with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. The bill increased the eligibility threshold from 40 percent of students to 60 percent.

Meanwhile health groups like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, are upset about rollbacks to nutrition standards.

The legislation calls for sodium levels to stay where they are until scientific research shows a need for further reductions and for sodium and whole grain requirements to be reviewed by Sept. 30.

“With one in five cancer diagnoses attributable to poor diet, physical inactivity, and overweight and obesity, it’s essential for Congress to focus on improving, not reducing, the nutritional quality of food available in schools to set our nation’s children on a healthy course,” ACS CAN’s President Chris Hansen said in a statement.