When Congress comes back for the post-election session, there will be little time and many competing priorities. One that must be addressed is child nutrition. Child nutrition may not have the political cachet of some of the big-ticket items on Congress’ plate, but here are seven reasons why this bill should be a top priority for congressional action.
1. Better School Lunches! The child nutrition bill would improve the nutritional quality of school lunches. It provides money for schools to buy more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also would ensure that school funds aren’t siphoned off to pay for a la carte junk foods, like pizza or French fries. Schools would get access to more model menus, healthy recipes that kids like in other schools, and additional advice and support to serve healthy meals.
2. Junk Food out of Schools. A provision in the bill would get junk foods and sugary drinks out of school vending machines and elsewhere on school grounds. It would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bring its 30-year-old nutrition standards into the 21st century. (Those standards now prohibit calorie-free seltzer water, yet allow candy bars!)
3. Families Rely on School Meals. Given the current economic situation, more families rely on the child nutrition programs to feed their families than ever before. The bill would expand access and reduce barriers to the child nutrition programs.
4. A Historic Investment in Kids. The bill is fully paid for and won't add to the deficit, even though at $4.5 billion of additional funding over the next ten years, it is the largest new investment in child nutrition programs in decades. Some members of the House previously had concerns about the bill, because it is paid for, in part, by ending a temporary increase in food stamp benefits five months early. However, a recent public commitment by President Obama to restore this benefit following the passage of the bill should alleviate those concerns and allow House members to vote for the bill.
5. Good for Farms and Farmers. The child nutrition bill expands farm-to-school programs, strengthening the traditional links between the school cafeteria and America’s family farms. This will encourage farmers to grow—and schools to buy—a greater variety of locally produced healthy fruits and vegetables.
6. Democrats and Republicans Agree on It! Though partisanship and politics have been thick in D.C., the Senate worked together on a bipartisan bill that it passed unanimously. You rarely see that on such major pieces of legislation.
7. Health Advocates and Industry Support It! The bill has strong support from over 1,100 national, state and local health, education, and anti-hunger groups, as well as unions and the food, beverage, dairy, and supermarket industries. Supporters include the American Beverage Association, Mars, SEIU, AFSCME, National PTA, National Education Association, American Heart Association, Feeding America, and Share Our Strength.
Child nutrition is ripe for action in the House of Representatives. It’s already passed the Senate but has languished to long in the House. Our children’s nutrition and health cannot wait any longer—and should not have to wait for legislators to start from scratch when a brand new Congress reconvenes next year.