Vilsack still backs nutrition funding
WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Oct. 23 reaffirmed the Obama administration's plans to ask Congress for an additional $1 billion per year for child nutrition programs, but backed down from previous statements that the money should...
WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Oct. 23 reaffirmed the Obama administration's plans to ask Congress for an additional $1 billion per year for child nutrition programs, but backed down from previous statements that the money should come from cutting other USDA programs.
In a telephone news conference on the administration's child nutrition program priorities, Vilsack said the administration still thinks the programs need an additional $1 billion per year so that more children can participate in the programs and the food offerings can be improved. But on a potential offset for the $1 billion, Vilsack said he "will work with Congress and the administration so that we do this in a proper way."
President Obama's fiscal year 2010 budget had proposed the $1 billion-per-year increase in child nutrition and programs and phasing out farm subsidies for farms with more than $500,000 in sales. In March, Vilsack urged anti-hunger advocates to support that cut as a way to pay for the increase in child nutrition. But both anti-hunger advocates and farm groups, which had formed a coalition to increase food stamp benefits as part of the 2008 farm bill, declined to support him.
After Vilsack's news conference, key anti-hunger and farm advocates praised Vilsack's approach. Food Research Action Center President Jim Weill said he was pleased that administration officials "remain committed to finding the $1 billion per year and are agnostic as to what source it should be from."
American Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher said, "When we and others called that . . . to his attention, he never repeated the statement again. We were pleased to work with him to prevent future statements like that." Thatcher said that, while Farm Bureau is worried that the administration will propose cuts in farm programs for reasons other than for finding money for nutrition programs, the group will not oppose an increase in the budget for child nutrition.
Congress failed to reauthorize the programs before they expired Sept. 30 and had to pass a one-year extension of the programs as part of the fiscal year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill, but Congress and the administration now appear ready to work on child nutrition programs early in calendar year 2010. Weill said congressional aides working on nutrition issues have said that congressional leaders want to pass the child nutrition bill before Congress considers a new budget resolution next spring. That budget resolution will reflect the increased costs of social programs in the recession and could make it harder to increase the budget for nutrition programs.
Vilsack said the administration will propose a mix of program changes to increase access for school lunch, breakfast, after school and summer feeding programs and to make the meals healthier. He noted that first lady Michelle Obama, who hosted a healthy eating and exercise event at the White House Oct. 21, would continue to promote nutrition generally and improvements in the school nutrition program.
"The first lady is our leader on this important initiative," Vilsack said.