The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act stalled in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Opponents of the bill added a requirement that child care workers submit to background checks. It seems a reasonable enough demand – screening child care workers is important to ensure the safety of children, although I thought background checks on child care workers were routine these days – except that this last minute addition has nothing to do with feeding hungry schoolchildren.
Reconciling the Senate and House Child Nutrition Bills
The Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act during the summer. The House had its own bill – Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act – which, after many delays, they set aside in favor of the Senate bill. If the House passes the Senate bill unchanged, it goes straight to President Obama. If the House passed its own bill, the two bills would then need to be reconciled before going to the president.
Food Stamp Funding
A major sticking point of this bill has been the funding. Money from the food stamps program was going to be used to fund an increase in the amount of money spent on school lunches. Many people objected, saying it was taking money away from feeding poor children in order to feed poor children.
After much discussion, the White House promised to find money to fund the food stamps program, so that the bill could progress as it is. Otherwise, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act would have had to go back to the Senate and start over.
Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida opposed the bill on the grounds that it was being paid for by funds from the stimulus package, referring to the food stamps money. House rules state that money used to fund a bill must come from somewhere, but the food stamps money, being part of emergency stimulus spending, was never offset by actual expected income.
Therefore, the food stamps/emergency stimulus money cannot be used for a non-emergency bill. It makes sense. I guess I’m just unclear on why it’s being brought up now when the bill has been sitting in the House for months.
Representative John Kline of Minnesota made the same point about the emergency stimulus money being used to fund the bill. He also opposed the bill on the grounds that the school lunch programs and other programs in the bill could be extended with no extra cost.
While that’s true, it misses the point of the bill. The reimbursement for a school lunch has not increased in thirty years, except for adjustments for inflation. The extra six cents per lunch that the bill has would provide more room for schools to purchase and prepare fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is an excellent bill. The programs are paid for. The one sticking point which was the food stamps funds will be offset with other funds. The problems with the bill are solved. Opponents of the bill are simply saying that the status quo – unhealthy, low-quality commodity foods fed to our children – is good enough.
Contact your representative and let them know what you think of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
C-Span has the entire proceedings of Congress (both Senate and House) on their site.
Image by dougww, used with Creative Commons license.