WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2015 - The leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee said they were close to agreement on legislation that would reauthorize child nutrition programs, providing some permanence for higher school meal standards developed by the Obama administration.
“We’re nearly at the finish line,” Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said at a news conference with the panel’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and actor Jeff Bridges.
Roberts said he was been coordinating the negotiations with the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, John Kline, R-Minn., who has jurisdiction over child nutrition programs, and with House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
“No. 1, it’s going to be bipartisan, and it is. No. 2, it’s going to have to be budget neutral. That’s just the way it is,” Roberts said of the bill being developed.
Stabenow said she was “optimistic” that a deal was near. “We have a general sense of agreement of the direction we’re moving in.”
Neither senator provided any details of what issues have been settled and what issues may remain outstanding. But the bill will almost certainly expand summer feeding programs, the reason for the Bridges’ appearance and a top priority for Democrats. “We can’t have a strong country if we have unhealthy kids,” said Bridges.
Stabenow told reporters she was aware that schools needed more flexibility and money in meeting the higher nutrition standards. “We do know that change requires some additional resources,” she said.
The School Nutrition Association, which represents local school meal programs, and the School Superintendents Association sent a joint letter to Congress on Monday appealing for more funding to cover the higher costs incurred because of the higher standards.
“No one in the debate over Child Nutrition Reauthorization is interested in reversing progress,” the letter said. “To sustain the progress local schools have already achieved, Congress must provide adequate funding and flexibility so that school districts can successfully educate healthy, successful citizens.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which authorized the administration to increase nutrition standards, expired Sept. 30.