House Democrats advanced bills Wednesday that would expand child nutrition assistance and require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue rules for protecting workers from excessive heat.

The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act approved by the House Education and Labor Committee on a party-line vote would expand an existing community eligibility provision to allow more schools in lower-income areas to provide free meals to all students without verifying their individual eligibility. The bill would also increase the lunch reimbursement rate by 10 cents and provide $10 million to help promote the use of plant-based foods in schools.

USDA also would be required under the bill to modify school nutrition standards every 10 years to keep them in line with federal dietary guidelines. An additional provision would ensure that schools could offer low-fat milk to students.

Congress hasn’t passed a child nutrition reauthorization bill since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was enacted in 2010 to require USDA to raise nutrition standards for school meals.

“We have to do better to expand access to free meals during the school year and summer months to ensure students who receive meals or have unpaid meal debt are not stigmatized or shamed, and to support schools in providing their students with nutritious, locally sourced and climate-friendly meals,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.

The second bill, also approved on a party-line vote, would give OSHA two years to propose regulations for workplace heat exposure. The regulations would have to require employers to implement comprehensive plans for protecting workers. Employers, including farms, would be required to offer paid breaks in cool spaces and access to water.

Although OSHA is currently considering a heat standard, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said the agency's regulatory process takes far too long. She noted that a 38-year-old farmworker died in her state on the job last year from extreme heat.

But neither bill is likely to get the GOP support necessary to pass the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Committee has jurisdiction over child nutrition programs in the Senate but has made no move to advance a child nutrition bill of its own.

Republicans argued the increased spending in the child nutrition bill could worsen inflation and the heat regulations would unfairly burden employers.

“We must remember that we're in the midst of the highest inflation rates in more than four decades, and we've already put American taxpayers $3 trillion in debt. Throwing more money round, where it's not needed is harmful,” said Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, rejected the idea that kids would go hungry without the enactment of the bill. “It’s not a matter of a choice between feeding children or not feeding children. The children are going to get fed with the existing programs,” she said.

Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-N.Y., said the heat regulations would be unworkable. “What works in one city and region would be totally impractical in another,” he said.

Pennsylvania Republican Glenn Thompson, the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, offered an amendment to ensure that whole milk could be offered in schools, but the proposal was rejected on a voice vote.

“Due to the baseless demonization of milk over the years, we've lost nearly an entire generation of milk drinkers,” Thompson said. “We’ve cheated those kids of proper nutrition, and these young people are missing out on the full benefits of dairy.”

Bonamici argued that it should be left to USDA to keep nutrition standards for milk in line with the dietary guidelines.

The dairy industry welcomed the provision ensuring that low-fat milk could be served in schools.

“In addition to expanding eligibility and increasing support to schools, the bill takes an important step in increasing students’ access to nutritious food by securing more permanently the ability for schools to serve all milk options consistent with the dietary guidelines,” the National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association said in a joint statement.

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