This is an excerpt reprinted with permission from The Hagstrom Report, a news service providing original national and international agricultural news to its subscribers.
In a sign of the difficulties reauthorizing the child nutrition programs face in this Congress, a key aide said the House Education & the Workforce Committee is only “in the early stages” of writing a five-year bill to reauthorize the programs.
Mandy Schaumburg, the committee’s education deputy director and senior counsel, made the statement while speaking on a panel of congressional aides at the Washington meeting of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service directors and the companies that make the foods served in the schools.
Schaumburg added, however, that the committee does hope to get the bill done this year and that Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the committee, believes “it is one of the bills that should be done this year.”
Carrie Hughes, an aide to Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the subcommittee ranking member, said the committee has nothing “concrete” and that the Republicans and the Democrats on the committee are “still in conversations.”
The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act expired on Sept. 30, 2015, but the programs covered under it continue through appropriations bills. The programs include the school meals programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and smaller commodity distribution programs.
The 2010 bill has been controversial because it made dramatic changes in the school meals programs, such as reducing salt, sodium and sugar and increasing fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy and meat.
The Senate Agriculture Committee has passed a bipartisan bill, but it has yet to see floor action.
Julian Baer, an aide to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Jacqlyn Schneider, an aide to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the ranking member, urged SNA members to lobby Congress this week to pass the bill quickly.
Baer said Roberts hopes to move the bill to the Senate floor “very, very soon.” He noted that there are only “a couple of weeks left in this work period,” and that later in the year there will be “lots of political activity.”
The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the battle over whether to replace him in this Congress affects the prospects for child nutrition reauthorization.
“There is not a drop-dead date, but the farther we get into this year the harder it will be to move a bipartisan package,” said Baer, reflecting previous statements made by Roberts.
Baer and Schneider stressed that the Senate bill is a bipartisan bill that contains compromises.
But Schaumburg signaled that the House would write a somewhat different bill. She said her committee has been examining the impact of the 2010 bill at the local level, and wants to address the costs that school nutrition directors are incurring and the level of participation because the school meals program “only works if kids are participating,” as well as how to relieve burdens so that school food service directors have time to run the program.
Hughes also noted that the House Education & the Workforce Committee takes a somewhat different approach because it “works with educators and people in the schools.”
But lobbyists have said the differences between the House Republicans and House Democrats on the school meals issues are much starker than between the Republican and Democratic senators.
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.