Senate Approves Child-Nutrition Bill; Measure Would Boost Snack Program
The Senate easily passed a compromise bill late last week that would reauthorize and expand federal child-nutrition programs while streamlining the bureaucracy needed to run them.
The bill, which the House was also expected to pass, included a provision backed by President Clinton to provide snacks to at-risk children ages 13 to 18 who are involved in after-school activities. Currently, only children under 12 are eligible for the subsidized snacks. The goal is to draw more teenagers into extracurricular programs.
"We view this as a magnet. If you feed them, they will come," said Ed Cooney, the deputy administrator for special nutrition programs at the Department of Agriculture. He estimated that the new entitlement program would cost $100 million over five years.
Last week, the two chambers also were expected to pass an agriculture appropriations bill with $9.2 billion for all of the child-nutrition entitlement programs, a 17.9 percent jump from the current funding of $7.8 billion. The hike reflects projected enrollment increases next year in federal child-nutrition programs and adjustments for previous years' spending. The school lunch program alone feeds more than 26 million schoolchildren every school day.
In a seemingly more bipartisan process than in 1995 when Republican leaders attempted to transfer control of the school lunch program to the states, Democrats and Republicans agreed last week on ways to make the delivery of nutritional services to children more efficient.
Currently, schools have to report information on school lunch, school breakfast, summer food, and after-school programs separately to their states, which often require different forms and procedures for each program. The reauthorization bill, HR 3874, would allow schools to run all their meals programs through one government contract. Child-nutrition advocates expect the move to save school food-service workers a lot of time.
"This kind of flexibility will make it easier for schools to concentrate on what they need to do for the kids rather than knowing the bureaucratic rules for all the programs," said Geri Henchey, the senior policy analyst for the Food and Research Action Council in Washington.
Vol. 18, Issue 7, Page 23