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Getting past the controversies in the child nutrition reauthorization

Fortunately, Congress has the opportunity to address both those
problems by passing the child nutrition bill when it reconvenes for the lame
duck session after the elections. The bill before the House received unanimous,
bipartisan support in the Senate, is fully paid for, and provides an additional
$4.5 billion in much-needed resources, along with common-sense reforms to
ensure our kids have greater access to nutritious meals in school.

In advocating for the bill, some have pitted reducing hunger against
addressing obesity.  That is an
outdated notion.  We can’t choose
whether to help hungry kids or obese kids – all too often, they are the same
kids.  The restricted budgets
responsible for episodes of hunger lead many families to fill up on inexpensive
foods high in calories, but low in nutrition.  By ensuring that those families have access to food that is
both reliable and nutritious, we can reduce hunger and obesity simultaneously.

In the school lunch and other child nutrition programs – and the child
nutrition bill — nutrition quality and program access must go hand in
hand.  It’s essential that child
nutrition programs provide healthy food to low-income kids, otherwise the
programs do not fulfill their mandate. 
At the same time, healthy food doesn’t do children any good if they
don’t have access to it.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the best child nutrition
reauthorization Congress has put forward in decades.  The bill makes significant reforms to address hunger and
obesity by expanding access while at the same time improving the nutritional
quality of school foods. Specifically: 

would make it easier for children receiving Medicaid benefits to participate in
school meal programs.  About 120,000
more low-income children would receive free school meals each year as a result
of the bill.

schools would be able to use new approaches to offering universal free lunches
and breakfasts to children.

bill includes a bipartisan provision, supported by health groups and the food
and beverage industry that would have the U.S. Department of Agriculture update
the nutrition standards to improve the offerings through school vending
machines.  This historic public
health provision is the result of a decade-long crusade by Representative
Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Senators Harkin (D-Iowa) and Murkowski (R-Alaska).

bill would provide the largest increase in school lunch reimbursements in 30
years (6 cents per lunch, which would be tied to schools meeting stronger
school lunch standards).  School
meal quality also would be enhanced through stronger technical assistance to
schools, improved meal financing, and increased accountability.

2020, 29 million additional after-school suppers would be served to at-risk
children, and after-school sites would receive roughly $14,000 in additional
revenue per site, on average, per fiscal year.

would receive $40 million for farm to school and school garden programs
to bring more healthy foods into
schools and support local agriculture.

The child nutrition bill is funded for the next 10 years, in part, by
moving up the sunset date for a temporary increase to SNAP benefits by five
months.  While ending this
temporary increase early is a difficult choice, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids
Act would benefit struggling families by ensuring kids have access to reliable,
healthy meals for the next decade. 
In addition, House leaders and the White House are working to resolve members’ concerns about the way the bill is paid for and USDA has committed to
stretching every dollar to expand program access for low-income families.

Support for the child nutrition bill is strong.  It is a top priority for the First Lady
and USDA Secretary Vilsack.  Child
nutrition is a popular, understandable issue for constituents.  More than 80% of Americans support
expanding the Child Nutrition Act to “provide healthier food and cover
more kids.”  Over 100 health,
education, anti-hunger, and industry groups support the bill, including the
National PTA, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association,
Feeding America, Share Our Strength, Mars, the Coca-Cola Company, and PepsiCo.

Congress has already passed two extensions for this bill, delaying
renewal of the child nutrition programs for more than a year.  Another extension would cause kids to
lose out on the strong reforms and $4.5 billion in resources already passed by
the Senate.  Children shouldn’t
have to wait any longer.

No child should be hungry in America today.  But they also shouldn’t be fed meals that put them at risk
of heart disease and diabetes.  It
is impossible to choose whether it is more tragic for a child to experience
bouts of hunger or go blind from diabetes.  Congress must curb both childhood hunger and obesity.  The next key step is to pass the
Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act when Congress returns for the lame duck session.


Margo G. Wootan is the director of nutrition policy at the Center
for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit advocacy organization that
specializes in food and nutrition.


Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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