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House Approves Child Nutrition Bill, Expanding Eligibility for School Lunch Programs

December 9, 2010

Last week, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 264-157, passed the Child Nutrition Bill, which was had been supported by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her campaign to combat childhood obesity.

The $4.5 billion child nutrition bill – already approved by the Senate – would effectively ban some greasy foods and sugary soft drinks from schools, steps that many California school districts have already taken on their own.

The bill would expand eligibility for school lunch programs, establish nutrition standards for all school meals, and encourage schools to use locally produced food.  It would also raise the reimbursement rate to six cents per meal, marking the first time in over 30 years that Congress has increased funding for school lunch programs.

The bill was backed by a many Democrats and some nonprofit advocacy groups.  “This is another step toward improving nutritional health of our nation's children and in so doing combating obesity,” said Gail Christopher, vice president for program strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which backed the bill.

But House Republicans and three educational groups charged that the bill is too burdensome for schools and doesn't provide sufficient resources to cover costs that schools will have to incur.

The new federal nutrition standards “wouldn't just apply to school meals but things like bake sales that are also used as fundraisers, or concessions sold at sporting events,” said Alexa Marrero, spokeswoman for House Education and Labor committee Republicans. “You're really getting into federal mandates on what people are allowed to eat as opposed to focusing on providing healthy meals through the school lunch and breakfast programs.”

Likely 2012 presidential contender Sarah Palin challenged federal nutrition standards when she brought cookies to a Pennsylvania school in early November in a clear poke at the First Lady's nutrition campaign.  But supporters of the child nutrition bill said the federal mandate governing school nutritional standards is not a new one, or unique to this particular Congress.  “The school lunch program is a national program. Almost all the funding comes from the federal government, about 5 percent of the funding comes from state and local sources,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It is not a new thing. It dates back to the 1940's and the Truman administration when the school lunch program was established as a federal program.”

Source:  EdBrief staff, ABC News.