ABC News' Mary Bruce reports:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Democrats today in calling for the swift passage of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” which the House is expected to vote on tomorrow.
“We should pass this legislation immediately,” Pelosi said on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. “It’s about our competitiveness. It’s about or national security. It’s about our moral responsibility to our children.”
The $4.5 billion Senate bill , which passed with unanimous consent in August, would expand eligibility for school lunch programs, establish nutrition standards for all school meals, and encourage schools to use locally sourced food. It would also raise the reimbursement rate to 6 cents per meal, marking the first time in over 30 years that Congress has increased funding for school lunch programs.
“The future prosperity of our country depends on having a highly educated and skilled work force that’s ready to compete, but kids that have food insecurity learn at a slower rate than their peers, have significantly lower math skills are much more likely to repeat grades. Simply put they don’t have the same chance to succeed,” Pelosi said.
The Obama administration today also urged House passage of the legislation. “This bill… would make significant improvements to nutrition programs that serve millions of children across our country each day,” according to a White House Statement of Administration Policy. “Passage of this legislation also would help advance the Administration's goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation, which is at the heart of the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign.”
Although the House had been considering an $8 billion version of the bill, tomorrow they will vote on the bill as passed by the Senate. “We will not make any changes because we want to be able to send it to the president," Education and Labor Committee Chairman Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said on the call.
Despite offering their support, some Democrats continue to oppose the way the Senate bill is funded. The bill would take $2.2 billion away from food stamp programs, a decision that was made after Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee opposed initial efforts to offset the costs of the legislation by cutting conservation subsidies to farmers.
“It’s no secret that I’ve had some concerns with how this bill is paid for,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said on the call. “I don’t believe we should be taking access to food away from some people in order to provide food for others. We have been assured repeatedly by the White House that they will work with us to restore those cuts.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., agreed. “We believe that it goes against what we are trying to achieve here,” she said.
However, DeLauro fought back against critics who question the legislation’s hefty price tag. “Some folks will say, ‘how can we afford this bill at the moment?’” she said. “How can we afford not to pass it? Leaving millions of children hungry and malnourished now in the name of budget cutting is penny wise and pound foolish.”