Vilsack, Lincoln, First Lady welcome House Committee vote for Child Nutrition reauthorization

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, July 15 – The House Education & Labor Committee passed bipartisan legislation Thursday to support children’s health and reduce childhood hunger by dramatically improving federal child nutrition programs. The Committee passed the “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act” (H.R. 5504) with a bipartisan 32-13 vote.

The bill includes sweeping reforms to significantly increase access and remove barriers to child nutrition programs, improve the quality of the meals served and implement new school food safety guidelines. The bill would increase the reimbursement rate for schools – the first increase in over 30 years. Additionally, for the first time it would require schools to set standards for foods served outside the cafeteria, including vending machines.

“If we allow our children’s health to suffer, if we allow more children to go hungry by not taking swift action with this legislation, we fail our children, their families and the future of this country,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education & Labor Committee and original co-sponsor of the bill. “This legislation gives us a real opportunity to make dramatic reforms to help prevent hunger, to improve children’s health and increase access to healthy meals. The health and academic success of an entire generation of children is at stake.”

“Given the serious fiscal challenges facing our country, we must ensure that we devote our limited resources to our nation's most urgent priorities,” said Congressman Todd Platts (R-PA), original co-sponsor of the legislation. “Providing nutritious meals and improving health standards for our nation's children, especially those most in need, are such priorities. I am pleased to be working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this important legislation forward.”

“I am pleased that this legislation calls for common sense action, to protect the health of our children. This bill addresses the need to work with children of all ages, from infants to high school age, to help them form healthy habits” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), chair of the Subcommittee on Healthy Families & Communities and original co-sponsor of the legislation. “From provisions to encourage mothers to breast feed their infants, to addressing the need to begin working with preschoolers on forming healthy habits and promoting physical activity and quality recess time, this legislation takes a comprehensive approach to improving the health of our children. Simply, this bill emphasizes healthy food and healthy habits, which will make healthy children.”

In addition to other amendments offered by committee members, the committee voted on a managers amendment, offered by Miller, that would bolster the legislation and help achieve President Obama’s goal of enhancing and improving the federal child nutrition programs. The amendment would expand the national after-school meals program so more children in after-school programs can have an additional snack or meal. Among other provisions, it would improve nutrition education and make further enhancements to food safety and food quality.

The managers amendment also strengthens the science-based foundation that ensures the WIC program best meets the nutrition needs of participants by enhancing the Secretary of Agriculture’s existing authority to conduct scientific reviews and ensures that the review considers the modern food environment, including innovations in the marketplace that may enhance WIC foods to better meet nutritional needs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed the House progress toward reauthorizing the child nutrition program, commenting that: “I applaud the commitment of Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Kline, Congresswoman McCarthy and Congressman Platts to ensuring that our children have access to healthy, nutritious meals. Through the work of the Chairman and the membership of the House Committee on Education and Labor to reauthorize and reform the Child Nutrition Act, today’s bipartisan passage of the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act (H.R. 5504) demonstrates a commitment to reduce hunger, improve the health of our children and support their academic achievement. The House legislation complements the Senate’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act recently reported out of Committee.”

Vilsack said “Both bills advance the Administration’s priorities to improve meal quality, strengthen nutrition standards for school meals, reduce barriers and increase access to healthy school meals, promote nutrition education, establish standards for competitive foods, and provide food to needy children during gap periods when the regular nutrition assistance programs are not in operation. Today’s action is a very positive step forward and I congratulate the House Committee on Education and Labor for its constructive, bipartisan work. I urge Congress to continue making enactment of Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation a priority this year. This is a bill that will improve the health and nutrition of America’s children – a top concern of moms and dads throughout the country. I urge Congress to finish this process by the time kids head back to school this fall.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) also welcomed the House action. Her parallel “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” passed the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously in March, representing the Senate effort to reauthorize the federal child nutrition programs which expire Sept. 30.

Lincoln commented that “I applaud Chairman Miller for his strong leadership in moving the child nutrition reauthorization process forward in the House. With today’s mark up in the Education and Labor Committee completed, Congress is one step closer to delivering a bill to the President’s desk. With only 78 days left before child nutrition programs are scheduled to expire, time is of the essence. We must not squander this opportunity to make historic improvements to our child nutrition programs that will put us on a path toward ending childhood hunger and reversing the trend of childhood obesity. I urge both chambers to pass child nutrition legislation without delay, and I look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Miller on this important priority.”

First Lady Michelle Obama commented that “I congratulate Chairman Miller and the House Education and Labor Committee on the successful bipartisan passage of a child nutrition reauthorization bill out of the Committee today. This important legislation will combat hunger and provide millions of schoolchildren with access to healthier meals, a critical step in the battle against childhood obesity. I urge both the House and Senate to take their child nutrition bills to the floor and pass them without delay. The President looks forward to signing a final bill this year, so that we can make significant progress in improving the nutrition and health of children across our nation.”

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