Child Nutrition Bill Goes to White House

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – A bill to reform school lunch and breakfast programs is on the way to the White after receiving final approval from the House of Representatives on Thursday.

The $4.5 billion measure, which passed in the House by a vote of 264-157, would essentially allow the Agriculture Department to set nutritional standards and write guidelines for what can and cannot be sold in the nation’s public schools.

Part of first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood hunger and fight childhood obesity, the bill is intended to eliminate unhealthy, fattening foods from school cafeterias, stores and vending machines. It also limits the amount of bake sales a school can hold during the course of a year.

At the same time, the measure provides for 20 million more free after-school meals per year by increasing the amount schools are reimbursed 6 cents per free meal.

According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the legislation would also add approximately 115,000 new students to the school meals program by using Medicaid and Census data to determine eligibility.

"Our national security, economic competitiveness and health and wellness of our children will improve as a result of the action Congress took today," Vilsack said.

The First Lady herself issued a statement following the House vote, saying that she was pleased with the result, calling the bill “a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that will significantly improve the quality of meals that children receive at school, and play an integral role in our efforts to combat childhood obesity.”

The bill, which will be partially paid for with $2.2 billion in future dollars for food stamps, was passed by the Senate in August.  It has met opposition in both the House and the Senate by Republicans who feel that the bill is not only too costly, but also represents the government overstepping its bounds.

“This isn’t a debate about healthy and affordable school meals,” Rep. John Kline (R-Minn) said in a statement. “It is a debate about the proper role of the federal government and the unsustainable level of government spending.”

House Republicans actually tried to delay the bill’s passage by introducing an amendment that barred the government from giving funds to schools and other care facilities that hire workers who refuse to submit to or lie about background checks.

Had they been successful, the bill would have returned to the Senate, and the House would have had to wait until January – when Republicans will have a majority – to formally vote on the measure.

Only 17 Republicans voted for the bill on Thursday.

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