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House Faced With Cutting Food Stamps for Child Nutrition Bill

Soon, the House plans to vote on a sweeping child-nutrition bill. The Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a deficit-neutral bill providing $4.5 billion to school lunch and other federal child-nutrition programs, in early August. If passed by the House and signed by President Obama, it will be the first time since 1973 that Congress has increased funding for the school lunch programs, beyond corrections for inflation.

The First Lady–supported legislation does a lot of good. It gives the Agriculture Department the ability to regulate the food schools sell in cafeterias and vending machines. It requires schools to offer more fresh fruit and vegetables. And, it automatically qualifies children on Medicaid for free school meals.

But the House and Senate are at a standoff on the legislation, and there are reports of internal White House dissent as well. Why? To pay for the bill, Senate Democrats cut 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. To pay for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the bill cuts those additional benefits.

This has many House members enraged. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), for instance, told the New York Times: “I want to pass a child nutrition bill. I am committed to the first lady’s campaign. I want to be helpful. But I won’t vote for a bill that robs Peter to pay Paul. The White House needs to work with us to find a better way to offset the cost.” More than 100 House Democrats have signed a letter opposing the cuts. Unions and hunger groups, such as the Food Research and Action Center, oppose it as well.

Nevertheless, Congress needs to act soon, as the bill contains funding for several federal programs — including school lunch and breakfast, SNAP, and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits — due to expire on Sept. 30.

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