A Renewed Call for Action: Bills in House & Senate Would Secure More Funding for Better Food

February 15, 2010

By Cassie Yarbrough, HSC Policy Intern

In the wake of President Obama’s first State of the Union address and the official launch of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to end childhood obesity, we once again hear a renewed call for action on behalf of our nation’s children.  Child obesity rates continue to rise, and there is simply not enough funding for fresh, healthy meals in schools.  However, there is hope: it’s clear that the current administration is making the fight against childhood obesity a priority.

In the State of the Union address President Obama said, “I want to acknowledge our first lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.” 

Then, on February 9 the President signed an Executive Order creating a task force on childhood obesity to be headed by First Lady Michelle Obama, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  Calling it “one of the most urgent health issues that we face in this country,” the President applauded the efforts of his wife and cabinet members as they launch a joint effort between the private sector and government agencies to combat childhood obesity.  

The same day, First Lady Michelle Obama launched a new website promoting healthier generations of children.  Check out LetsMove.gov to find information concerning healthy choices, healthier schools, physical activity, and accessible and affordable healthy food.  Notably, the campaign challenges US schools to improve nutrition and physical activity standards, including a call for improved nutritional education.  It also calls for a strong and well-funded reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.

With the long-awaited reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act resurfacing after a delay last fall, we are seeing renewed activity in Washington in the effort to secure the funds needed to improve the National School Lunch Program and extend it to all children in need.

Here at HSC, we're particularly excited about four bills, two of which are in the House
Education and Labor Committee and two of which are in the Senate Agriculture,
Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. 

  • The two House Bills are H.R.
    3705: Expand School Meals Act
    and H.R. 1324: Child Nutrition Promotion
    and School Lunch Protection Act
    .  If passed, the Expand School
    Meals Act would extend free school meals to all children with family
    incomes below 185 percent of poverty guidelines.  This will effectively
    eliminate the reduced-price category within the National School Lunch
    Program
    , easing the burden on millions of families to provide nutritious,
    balanced meals to their children.  The Child Nutrition Promotion
    and School Lunch Protection Act would redefine the guidelines for the
    Secretary of Agriculture, requiring the Secretary to establish science-based
    nutrition standards for food served both in the school lunch and breakfast
    programs and for food served outside the scheduled meal period (such
    as after-school snack bars).  
  • The two Senate Bills include S. 1343:
    Hunger Free Schools Act
    and S. 934: Child Nutrition Promotion and School
    Lunch Protection Act
    .  The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act
    in the Senate is a counterpart to the bill of the same name in the House. 
    The Hunger Free Schools Act would improve the process of certifying qualified
    children as eligible for free meals.  It would also extend assistance
    payments to schools and Local Education Authorities (LEAs) as they implement
    free/reduced price meals in schools based on the number of children
    eligible for such meals and whether the school/LEA is in a high poverty
    area.   

We expect these four bills to be added
in to the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, but it is imperative that
they not be overlooked.President Obama's proposed budget makes it clear that child nutrition is a priority. Now we all need to raise our voices to let Congress know that this is the right priority. You can take action at HSC's online Child Nutrition resource center.

These policies will improve the academic and wellness environment of all our schools, fostering our children’s ability to
pay attention and learn while simultaneously making their day-to-day
lives healthier and more productive.  We urge you to
contact your senators and representatives and ask them to
cosponsor these bills, include them in the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization,
and support a substantial funding increase for the National School Lunch
Program.You can take action online at www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/childnutrition.