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Published July 20, 2010, 08:13 AM

House committee approves child nutrition bill

WASHINGTON — House, Senate and White House officials are working together to attempt to find offsets to reauthorize the child nutrition programs before they expire on Sept. 30, a House Democratic leadership aide said July 15 after the House Education and Labor Committee approved the bill. But significant hurdles remain if Congress is to meet that deadline.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — House, Senate and White House officials are working together to attempt to find offsets to reauthorize the child nutrition programs before they expire on Sept. 30, a House Democratic leadership aide said July 15 after the House Education and Labor Committee approved the bill. But significant hurdles remain if Congress is to meet that deadline.

“The leadership supports this bill going forward; we are working with the White House and the Senate to find a way to pay for it,” the aide said in an email after the House Education and Labor Committee approved the measure by a wide bipartisan vote of 32 to 13. Michelle Obama praised the committee for its bipartisan passage of the measure and said President Obama looks forward to signing the bill this year.

The child nutrition programs, which include school meals, the special nutrition program for low-income women, infants and children known as WIC, and other smaller institutional feeding programs, are popular. Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign has created momentum for improving school meals. The major provisions in the Education and Labor-approved bill and a bill approved earlier this year by the Senate Agriculture Committee, including a 6-cent increase in the reimbursement to schools for meals, are similar. But the Senate bill would increase spending by only $4.5 billion in 10 years, with offsets coming from a food stamp education program and a cut in the environmental quality incentives program, a conservation program run by USDA. The House bill would increase the cost of the programs by $8 billion over 10 years, and the bill does not say where the money would come from.

Providing money

President Obama proposed a $10 billion increase in 10 years for child nutrition, but Congress has declined to provide that much.

Anti-hunger advocates have said they hope that House Ways and Means will provide the additional money, as that committee and Senate Finance provided an additional $1 billion per year for food stamps in the 2008 farm bill. Senate Agriculture Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., has said she would ask Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to come up with more money for child nutrition. But Lincoln may be under pressure to ask Baucus for more money. Conservation groups are opposing a cut in conservation programs to pay for the nutrition programs. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has made child nutrition a priority, has said, however, that he is willing to search USDA’s budget including the conservation programs for money that the administration would be willing to shift to nutrition.

House Education and Labor ranking member John Kline. R-Minn., repeatedly said during the markup that he fears the deficit will be increased to pay for the increased access and more expensive food items in the bill, but House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said that the bill would be offset. Democrats rejected a Republican proposal that would not have included the new programs.

The House bill also includes more summer and after-school meals and pilot projects than the Senate bill including an organic pilot and one proposed by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., for an optional plant-based school lunch.

“Is this the vegan (amendment)?” Miller asked. “When I came here we were just talking about spaghetti and meatballs, but things have changed over the years.”

The amendment passed on a voice vote and no one asked for a roll call.

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