December 3, 2010

House Passes School Lunch Legislation

On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved legislation that will expand the nation's school lunch program while making meals healthier, various media outlets are reporting.

According to the AFP, "The bill pledges 4.5 billion dollars over 10 years to child nutrition programs, increases the reimbursement paid to schools by the federal government for free meals provided to children, and expands access to school lunches and after-school meals."

"It also allows the US Department of Agriculture to set nutrition guidelines for foods sold in schools, including in coin-operated vending machines, and provides money for school gardens and farm-to-school programs," the French news agency added.

The legislation, which had been championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, passed by a margin of 264 votes to 157 votes. A total of 247 Democrats and 17 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while four Democrats and 153 Republicans voted against it, Robert Pear of the New York Times reported. The bill will now go to President Obama, who has announced his intention to sign it.

According to Pear, the bill will give the US Department of Agriculture the authority to establish nutritional guidelines for foods sold in schools throughout the day, but in cafeterias as well as in vending machines. He notes that the new standards would force educational institutions to make more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and low-fat dairy products available to the 31 million children serviced by the school lunch program on a daily basis.

Furthermore, the New York Times reports that the bill will also increase federal reimbursement for the school lunch program beyond the inflation level in order to help pay for the healthier meals--the first time that has happened in over three decades. According to Pear, "the bill regulates prices for lunches served to children with family incomes over 185 percent of the poverty level."

Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro praised the measure, telling Pear, that it "sets national nutrition standards that will finally get all of the junk food infiltrating our classrooms and our cafeterias out the door."

Not everyone agreed with DeLauro's assessment of the legislation, though.

"This bill is not about child nutrition. It's not about healthy kids. It's about an expansion of the federal government, more and more control from Washington, borrowing more money and putting our children in greater debt," argued Paul Broun, a Republican Representative from Georgia as well as a physician. "The federal government has no business setting nutritional standards and telling families what they should and should not eat."


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