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Senate Unanimously Passes Sweeping Child Nutrition Bill

This afternoon, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, providing $4.5 billion to school lunch and other federal child-nutrition programs. If passed by the House and signed by President Obama, as expected, it will be the first time in three decades that Congress has increased funding for the programs.

The House is returning from its recess on Tuesday to vote on a $26.1 billion state aid bill, but is not expected to vote on the child nutrition bill then, meaning it will get a vote in mid-September.

The bill was bipartisan and deficit-neutral, and came with the support of First Lady Michelle Obama. On Monday, she wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post urging the Senate to fit the provision into its intensely busy legislative calendar. Today, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) came to an agreement with Republican leadership, and moved the provision by unanimous consent, waiving a voice vote.

The bill, controversially, is offset mostly with cuts from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, already cut to help pay for the state aid bill. Congress made SNAP benefits more generous in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $787 billion Feb. 2009 stimulus bill. To pay for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the bill reduces some of the additional benefits, starting in a few years. Senate aides stressed that Democrats left the SNAP benefits requested in the Farm Bill untouched, and argued that tackling childhood hunger would reduce the strain on family food budgets and the SNAP program overall.

From the Agriculture Committee, where the bill originated, here is a summary of its major provisions:

  • Expanded After-School Meals for At-Risk Children Nationwide: For the vast majority of states, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) at-risk after-school program only provides reimbursement for a snack. This section will allow communities in all 50 states to be reimbursed for a meal.
  • **Expanded Universal Meal Service: **This new option will allow schools in high-poverty areas to offer free meals to all students without collecting paper applications, which will expand access to more children and reduce administrative burdens on schools.
  • Increasing the Number of Eligible Low-Income Children with School Meals: Children whose families receive SNAP benefits are directly certified for free school meals. This provision will expand the direct certification process to include Medicaid in select districts in the U.S.
  • Automatically Enrolling Foster Children for Free School Meals: This section will add foster children to the list of those that are automatically eligible for free meals, eliminating the need for foster children to demonstrate their income when applying for school meal benefits.
  • Promoting the Availability and Locations of Summer Meal and Breakfast Sites: This provision will require school food authorities to coordinate with institutions operating the Summer Food Service Program to develop and distribute materials to families to inform them of the availability and location of summer meal sites and school breakfast sites.
  • Piloting Innovative Methods to Provide Nutrition to Hungry, Low-Income Children: The bill provides mandatory funding to test pilot projects to improve methods of providing nutritious foods to hungry children, including during out-of-school times.

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