Senate Ag Committee OKs expanded child nutrition programs

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, March 24 – In the spirit of bipartisanship and leaving the tough stuff ‘til later, the Senate Agriculture Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to send Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln’s “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” to the full Senate for consideration. HHFKA reauthorizes USDA’s child nutrition programs such as the school meals programs.

As approved by the committee, the bill would increase funding by $4.5 billion over the next 10 years. That’s less than half the $10 billion proposed by the Obama administration. But both Sen. Lincoln (D-AR) and Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) confirmed that they will continue to seek additional funding.

Following the committee’s unanimous voice vote to approve Lincoln’s bill with only minor changes, Lincoln called the vote “a monumental step forward today, making a record investment in our child nutrition programs.” She added that “I was proud all of my Republican and Democratic colleagues voted to support this bill that puts us on the path to ending childhood hunger and addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity.”

Funding was the main sticking point during Wednesday’s mark-up session. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) said that rather than adding $4.5 billion over the next 10 years, what’s needed is $4 billion per year. She said that instead of simply adding 6 cents per meal in federal reimbursements to school lunchrooms as proposed in Lincoln’s bill, 70 cents per meal is needed to add more whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables to school menus. Finding no support from the committee, Gillibrand withdrew her amendment and promised to raise the issue again on the Senate floor where she hopes to rally more support.

Sen. Chambliss focused his concerns on where the bill finds savings to offset the new spending on nutrition program. Along with other Republicans, he argued that rather than take funds from the popular cost-sharing EQIP conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program should be tapped instead. He got solid Republican support for his amendment, plus a vote from Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) who switched his vote from pass to yes once it was clear that even with Nelson’s yes vote, the amendment would be voted down, as it was in an 11-10 vote. Chambliss promised to take the issue up again on the Senate floor.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) warned against doing anything which would re-open the carefully negotiated, delicately balanced ’08 Farm Bill. Lincoln, reaffirming her strong support for the EQIP program, explained that her plan to offset increased nutrition funding by decreasing EQIP funding will guarantee continued steady growth in EQIP funding. She said that Senate appropriators would have cut EQIP funding as they have done in the past, so that her approach simply ensures that this time the savings will be credited to agriculture, not some other budget purpose. “This way,” Harkin pointed out, “we can use that money for nutrition.”

For a brief summary of the bill’s provisions, go to: 

To read the complete 187-page bill text along with more detailed summaries and copies of current proposed amendments, go to and scroll to the bottom of the page.

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