Despite a last-minute procedural move by House Republicans to block it, a vote is expected today on the $4.5 billion legislation (over the next 10 years) that would expand eligibility for national school meal programs and attempt to make school food more nutritious.
Called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the reauthorization measure passed the Senate unanimously in August. It would, among other things:
— Provide 20 million additional after-school meals
— Streamline paperwork required to receive meals, which should make another 115,000 children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals
— Set new nutrition guidelines for food sold in schools, eliminating candy and soda in lunches or from school stores or vending machines
— For the first time since 1975, provide a non-inflationary increase in the reimbursement rate (the amount local school districts get from the federal government) to 6 cents per lunch for schools that adhere to the new nutrition standards
— Provide incentives for school lunches to include produce from local farms and school gardens
Advocates of the bill note that children get nearly half their daily calories at school, but that government-subsidized school meals often don’t meet the government’s own nutrition guidelines.
Earlier, some House Democrats objected to shifting funds from future food stamp programs to pay for part of the bill but the Obama administration promised to find ways to restore the food stamp money.
House Republicans, who have said the bill is not just an extension of the school meals program but a too-costly expansion, had proposed a motion to recommit, adding a provision to require background checks for childcare workers. That would send the bill back to committee and then back to the Senate. With time running out on the legislative calendar this year, it likely would have killed the bill, which Democrats said was the GOP’s aim.
“It is disappointing that Republicans decided to pull a political stunt to delay passage of this bill at the expense of the deserving children who need healthy meals,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Wednesday. “I look forward to completing action on this critical legislation tomorrow and sending it to the president’s desk for his signature.”
First Lady Michelle Obama has pushed for the bill’s passage as part of her “Let’s Move” agenda for combatting childhood obesity.