Congress gave final approval on Dec. 2 to a child nutrition bill that expands the school lunch program and sets new standards to improve the quality of school meals with more fruits and vegetables.
The passage by Congress of a child nutrition bill that expands the school lunch program and sets new standards to improve the quality of school meals could come too soon for First Lady Michelle Obama. She lobbied for the bill as a way to combat obesity and hunger. About half of the $4.5-billion cost of the program will be financed by a cut in food stamps starting in several years.
Obama said she was thrilled by what she described as a groundbreaking piece of legislation. By a vote of 264 to 157, on Dec. 2, the House passed the bill, which was approved in the Senate by unanimous consent in August. It now goes to President Obama, who intends to sign it.
Some liberal House Democrats and advocates for the poor were against the bill in September, saying it was wrong to pay for the expansion of child nutrition programs by cutting money for food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
But Democrats put aside their disagreements after concluding that it was better to take what they could get than to gamble on their chances in the next Congress when Republicans will control the House. President Obama tapped down concern by telling Democrats that he would work with them to find other ways to pay for the bill before the cuts in food stamps take effect.
Obama won praise for her role. “She has been an incredible champion for our children, particularly in the areas of nutrition and obesity,” sys Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass). “Hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin. Highly processed, empty-calorie foods are less expensive than fresh, nutritious foods.”
The lunch program feeds more than 31 million children a day. The bill gives the secretary of agriculture authority to establish nutrition standards for foods sold in schools during the school day, including items in vending machines. The standards would require schools to serve more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
For the first time in more than three decades, the bill would increase federal reimbursement for school lunches beyond inflation - to help cover the cost of higher-quality meals. It would also allow more than 100,000 children on Medicaid to automatically qualify for free school meals.
Congress Approves Child Nutrition Bill
December 13, 2010