By Courtney Brein, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow
This afternoon, I attended the Enrollment Ceremony for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. I sat in a beautiful room in the Capitol building and listened to Speaker Nancy Pelosi applaud the efforts of her colleagues, advocates, and the First Lady in pushing for the passage of important improvements to child nutrition programs. Surrounded by a group of Congressional child nutrition champions – including Representative George Miller (D-CA), Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) – she signed the legislation, completing the final step necessary to send the bill to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.
Less than 24 hours earlier, I had watched – via C-SPAN live stream – as members of the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act by a vote of 264 to 157. With one eye fixed to the goings on in the House chamber, I’d kept the other trained on my inbox and the steady stream of optimistic, and then downright festive, emails from child nutrition and anti-hunger advocates sitting in offices throughout D.C. and around the country. The victorious cries of an even broader array of the bill’s supporters overwhelmed my twitterfeed.
The opportunity to celebrate a landmark achievement for healthier school meals was long overdue. I began advocating for the passage of a strong reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act when I joined the League in August 2009 – and I came late to the game. Many of my fellow advocates in the NANA (National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity) Coalition started pushing for the improved nutritional standards and increased reimbursement rate included in this bill before the last child nutrition authorization took place (it happens every five years). And, more recently, the 2004 authorization – which was set to expire on September 30, 2009 – was extended until September 30, 2010. While the Senate unanimously passed the bill in August of this year, the House did not take up the issue until the lame duck session following the November election.
Why is this bill so important? While the bill’s provisions improve the nutrition of food served in schools for all children, they will also greatly help efforts to combat hunger and obesity, which often go hand-in-hand and disproportionately impact low-income kids. Among other measures, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act does the following:
- Provides the biggest increase (six cents) in per-meal reimbursement that the National School Lunch Program has received since its inception
- Simplifies the process for enabling low-income children to receive the free meals to which they are entitled and expands after-school meal access for at-risk kids
- Makes significant strides in getting junk food out of schools
- Strengthens school wellness policies
- Increases funding for farm-to-school and school garden programs
If you support these improvements to child nutrition programs, please take a moment to check out this list of representatives who voted in favor of the bill and, if your rep is on it, send a quick thank-you email! These 264 members deserve recognition for their leadership in getting this bill to the President’s desk.