Thursday, May 29, 2014

House panel OKs bill that would allow schools losing money on lunches to opt out of federal rules

A U.S. House committee approved today a bill that would allow some school districts to opt out of school-lunch nutrition rules strongly promoted by Michelle Obama.

"From vending-machine junk-food labels to the merits of fresh white potatoes in the diet of low-income mothers and their young children, nutrition items dominated the meeting" of the House Appropriations Committee, reports David Rogers of Politico. "But the school meals fight drew the most attention, given the first lady’s prominence, and the key 29-22 committee vote followed a spirited debate that approached two hours."

Because Republicans control the committee, "the outcome was never in doubt," Rogers notes. "But Democrats did win a pledge from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), the bill’s manager, that he doesn’t intend for the waiver to become permanent law and will consider revisions to make that clearer." Aderholt said, "I do think that Mrs. Obama is well-intentioned, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to her program. I’m not sure she recognizes the fuller impact in greater America."

School Nutrition Association President Leah Schmidt said after the vote, "We appreciate the House Appropriations Committee’s support for this waiver to give temporary needed relief to some schools across the country. This will not halt the progress in school cafeterias; it is a temporary reprieve to allow schools to catch up."

The food and agriculture appropriations bill "requires a school district to show only that it has operated at a loss for six months in trying to meet the standards," Rogers notes, quoting Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.):  “If I were a school district and I wanted to find a way to save money and not comply, you could drive a food truck through this amendment.” Actually, the amendment By Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) was to take out the subcommittee-approved provision, Alyson Klein of Education Week points out.

The bill also "opens the door for fresh potatoes — not chips or fries — to qualify for purchases under the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and young children," Rogers reports.

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