July 15, 2010
On Thursday, July 15, the House Education and Labor Committee approved the child nutrition reauthorization bill authored by Chairman George Miller (D-CA) (Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act, H.R. 5504) by a vote of 32 -13 with Republicans Todd Platts (PA), Michael Castle (DE), and Vernon Ehlers (MI) joining all of the Democratic members of the committee in supporting the bill.
The bill includes $50 million in mandatory funding over five years for farm to school programs nationwide and incorporates language very similar to Rep. Rush Holt’s (D-NJ) Farm to School Improvements Act that NSAC strongly supports. The companion Senate Agriculture Committee-passed a bill that includes $40 million in mandatory funding for the Farm to School program.
“Farm to school programs support our local farmers and help in the fight against childhood obesity,” Holt said at the markup.
The overall bill is designed to expand access and improve the nutritional quality of the National School Lunch program, offering a six cent per meal reimbursement increase for schools and setting standards for foods sold outside the cafeteria.
An amendment by Representatives Woolsey (D-CA) and Kucinich (D-OH) was accepted to authorize an organic food pilot program that would provide competitively-awarded grants to school authorities to create pilot efforts to buy more organic foods for the school meal program. The measure parallels a similar provision sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) included in the companion Senate bill. While included in both the House and Senate pending authorization bills, it would still need to be funded by the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee in future years to get off the ground.
The House bill passed out of Committee today includes $8 billion in new spending over the next ten years, money that must be offset from cuts to other programs or raised through new revenue. No offsets have been announced yet but must be agreed upon before the bill can go to the floor for a full vote of the House.
The Senate’s child nutrition bill passed out of Committee on March 24 with $4.5 billion in new spending offset, in part, by a $2.8 billion cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). NSAC opposes the inclusion of the cut to conservation and instead supports the repeal of tax loopholes to pay for the child nutrition measure. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson has said that Farm Bill program cuts should not be used for child nutrition program expansion. Miller and the House Democratic leadership will now try to work out the funding offsets as they attempt to get the bill ready for a vote on the House floor.
The current authorization for the child nutrition programs expires on September 30 so the bills in both chambers must move to floor votes before Congress leaves for recess on August 9 for the bill to become law without the necessity for heroic last minute rescue measures. If passed before the August recess, the differences in the two bills could then be worked out during the recess and there would be enough time for the compromise language to be approved by both houses of Congress after they return to Washington on September 12.
As has been true, then, since the very beginning of work on the measure, it will all come down to finding offsets that can win majority support, a process that has been painfully slow but could potentially move more quickly now that the policy and spending side of the bill has been reported out of the House committee.