Child Nutrition Bill Passes in the House: Food Advocacy FTW!

I’m in the midst of what feels like the most terrible two weeks of my semester: researching, writing, crying about researching and writing… but then there was this enormous sunburst of light on my food news radar last Thursday:

Congress Approves Child Nutrition Bill

This is HUGE news. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a year overdue. The child nutrition reauthorization bill (the bill’s more generic name) is supposed to be renewed by Congress every five years, but Congress chose to postpone renewal last fall. After over a year of advocating on the part of sustainable food organizations and most notably Michelle Obama, the bill has finally passed.

It is an imperfect bill for sure, mainly because it takes HALF of its increased funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. Democrats and food advocates alike winced at this provision, but felt it necessary to compromise or else risk not passing the bill at all.

Here are some of the highlights of the bill:

  • It will raise the federal reimbursement by six cents per meal. This doesn’t sound like much, but it is the first non-inflation increase since 1973.
  • It provides $50 million in funding for Farm-to-School programs. I’m definitely most excited over this part of the bill. Check out some more info on farm to school programs at www.farmtoschool.org.
  • It outlines better nutrition standards that cover all of the food sold in the cafeteria, rather than just the food prepared at the school. The New York Times (via Center for Research in the Public Interest) featured a sample before-and-after menu.
  • It allows easier access for low-income students to register for the free and reduced lunch program, something that is shockingly relevant according to new data from the USDA, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, that 15 percent of all households in the U.S. didn’t have enough money to feed themselves at some point in 2009. On top of that, 6.8 million of these households had to skip meals regularly; that includes at least one million children who didn’t have access to consistent meals. For some children, these free or reduced lunches may be the only meal they have throughout the day.

The bill’s passage seems especially pressing considering the Republicans will take over the House in January. Check out who voted yay and nay on the bill, according to the New York Times story:

On the final roll call, 247 Democrats and 17 Republicans voted for the bill. Four Democrats and 153 Republicans voted no.

This bill is definitely something to be grateful for, especially after hearing that the Food Safety Modernization Act will likely die during this Congressional session due to a silly bureaucratic typo in the Senate’s version of the bill.

For more coverage, check out the Slow Food USA blog post on the bill.

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