The Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill that stalled last month still has a chance, according to White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass.
Yesterday, Kass, who also serves as the senior policy adviser on Healthy Eating Initiatives, told a conference of 400 chefs and children’s health/anti-hunger advocates that the White House remains excited and optimistic about the bill’s prospects during the next session in November.
The nutrition bill had been languishing in the House before Congress
recessed to campaign for the midterm elections. The landmark
bill, which unanimously passed the Senate over the summer, would allow
the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set nutritional standards for all
school food, expand school breakfast programs, and slightly increase the
reimbursement rate for meals.
“We are excited about the
prospects of the bill, believe it or not, and are hopeful that it will
pass the House and get to the president’s desk during the lame duck
session,” said Kass, pointing out that the bill
is fully offset and would not add to the deficit.
One of the
offsets has become a big political problem for the bill. Anti-hunger advocates and 106 House Democrats were up in arms over a proposal to
suspend a temporary $2.2 billion increase in SNAP (federal food stamp) benefits in 2013,
awarded as part of the stimulus bill. Kass said the Obama Administration is listening to those concerns and is committed to working with
Congress to restore the offset in the future.
Kass said it is appalling that while the U.S. is “by far the most productive and efficient agriculture society in the world, we still have 49 million Americans who are food insecure, and 16 million of them are children.”
“We are working tirelessly in the Administration to meet the president’s goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015,” said Kass, who went on to discuss the intimate link between childhood hunger and obesity, two issues First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign targets.
“These two problems seem to be opposite. One is the product of not enough, the other a product of too much. One gives us a dire sense of urgency; every hungry child is an emergency… the other builds slowly over time, eroding the health and potential of our citizens and eating away at a child’s quality of life.”
Both hungry and obese children can be seen as malnourished, explained Kass. “This irony often plays out in the very same child.”
“We need to both fight hunger and make sure our kids grow healthy,” he said. “Under no circumstances should carrots be considered a luxury item.”
Kass encouraged his audience of advocates to break out of institutional and organizational silos. “It’s going to take every sector of society to end childhood hunger, to end childhood obesity. We have everything we need to solve this problem. It’s going to be up to you and it’s going to be up to us,” added Kass, whose remarks were met with a standing ovation.
Chef Tim Cipriano, who heads the food services program for New Haven Public Schools and was named Advocate of the Year at the Share Our Strength conference, offered a more tempered outlook.
“I think [Child Nutrition Reauthorization] is still an uphill battle,” Cipriano, told Obama Foodorama. “It would be great to have the Senate bill pass, which is really probably the only bill that’s feasible for lame duck; I am not really sure what’s going to happen.”
“I know Share our Strength and other groups will do whatever possible to help get the bill through, but it’s still an uphill battle.”