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Dairy Facts 2016
 
 

Vilsack Urges Congress to Continue School Lunch Rules, Add Money for Summer Feeding

Sep 09, 2015
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at the National Press Club this morning on the need to strengthen child nutrition programs. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

This is an excerpt reprinted with permission from The Hagstrom Report, a news service providing original national and international agricultural news to its subscribers.


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today urged Congress to reauthorize the child nutrition programs this year, including the healthier school meal rules, and said he hopes that Congress will provide more money for summer feeding programs.

“Now is not the time to roll back, now is the time to move forward,” Vilsack said at a newsmaker event at the National Press Club.

“It is important for congress to find a way to provide for reauthorization without taking a step back,” Vilsack said, adding that he is confident that if Congress finds a path toward reauthorization “it will do the right thing for our children.”

Child nutrition programs come up for reauthorization every five years, and when Congress passed the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 it included healthier school meal rules that were promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama. The 2010 bill expires September 30, but most of the meals programs would continue unchanged if Congress does not act by that date.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has scheduled a markup on a bill on September 17 but the House Education and the Workforce Committee has not scheduled a markup.

Vilsack also used his own life as an example. Noting that he was adopted into a family that had problems with alcohol and drug abuse, Vilsack said his way of responding to the stress was to eat. His parents became so concerned that they posted a cartoon of a fat child on the refrigerator door to warn him not to eat so much.

He also noted that fat kids get bullied at school and said he wants to help parents and grandparents address the obesity issue.

Vilsack also countered many of the arguments made against the healthier school meal rules.

While the School Nutrition Association, which represents the school food service directors and the companies that make school foods, has complained that participation is down, Vilsack noted that participation is down only among children who pay full price for their lunch.

Participation in school breakfast is up, and those schools that have implemented community eligibility, which means that the district has enough low-income children receiving free and reduced price lunches to get free lunches for everyone, participation is up.

The decreased participation among children who pay full price started before the new school meal rules and had to do with the economy, Vilsack said.

But when asked about complaints from middle-class schools that they do not have enough low-income children to participate in community eligibility or get grants of free equipment, Vilsack said that “given the limited resources” he could not justify sending more money to those districts.

Vilsack also said he does not expect Congress to increase reimbursements for school lunch, but that he believes members will provide more money for summer feeding programs that now reach only a fraction of the 21 million children who get free and reduced price lunches during the school year.

Vilsack also announced that USDA will award another $8 million in grants to help school nutrition professionals better prepare healthy meals for their students.

Approximately $2.6 million will help implement new national professional standards for all school nutrition employees who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, and $5.6 million will help states improve food service training programs and provide nutrition education in school, child care, and summer meal settings.

Vilsack also said that he believes food waste is not worse in the schools than it was before the healthier school meal rules were imposed. He noted that a recent Vermont study on children throwing away food was based on only two schools and that there are 99,000 schools in the country.

He also noted that the food industry has “stepped up” to reduce sugar, sodium and fat and to include more fruits and vegetables, low-fat, dairy and meat and whole grain breads and pasta.

The School Nutrition Association today also called on Congress to reauthorize the programs, but with rollbacks of some requirements and more money.

Vilsack’s statements were backed up by American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Sandra Hassink and Jessica Donze Black, director of child nutrition at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Hassink said school lunches have become “role models of good nutrition” and that there is support for the rules.

The changes are vital, Hassink said, because she sees small children with problems of high cholesterol, sleep apnea, Type II diabetes, and even 4-year-olds with liver disease based on obesity.

Vilsack’s statements were backed up by American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Sandra Hassink and Jessica Donze Black, director of child nutrition at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Hassink said school lunches have become “role models of good nutrition” and that there is support for the rules.

The changes are vital, Hassink said, because she sees small children with problems of high cholesterol, sleep apnea, Type II diabetes, and even 4-year-olds with liver disease based on obesity.

Black called the school cafeteria “the biggest classroom” in each school, where children are getting lessons in what to eat.

Under the 2010 rules, Black noted, every school breakfast and lunch includes fruits and vegetables and one third of schools have self-service salad bars.

She urged Congress to include a proposal for more school food equipment and more training for school food service workers.

“School nutrition directors are running the largest restaurants in their communities,” Black said.

USDA — Vilsack Remarks: Strengthening Child Nutrition Programs — Back to School and Back to Work for Congress


The Hagstrom Report covers Congressional hearings, markups and press conferences in Washington D.C., as well as national nutrition news and farm meetings throughout the United States. Subscribers to The Hagstrom Report receive a digital newsletter daily while Congress is in session and at other times as events require and news happens.

 
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