Child Nutrition and Food Stamp Funding: God Does Not Give With Both Hands

school lunch.jpg
flickr user Ben+Sam
School lunch: about to get better
It was an eventful week in the Senate, particularly on the subject of food.

The good news: yesterday the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which, if signed into law, will give $4.5 billion over 10 years to fund federal child nutrition programs, including school lunch. Seems like a no-brainer (which it is), but it's the first time in 30 years that the government has increased funding.

While the $4.5 billion is less than the $10 million advocates (including First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign) were hoping for, the money will go directly to increasing the number of children who will receive school meals, as well as improving the quality of that food. According to Jane Black at The Washington Post, the bill "includes an extra 6 cents per meal per student for schools that meet new, stricter nutrition standards and funding for schools to establish school gardens and to source local foods."

Perhaps even more significantly, the bill would mandate that the Department of Agriculture develop nutrition standards for all food items sold in schools, not just the stuff the lunch ladies are dishing out. That means vending machines stocked with unhealthy snacks like Doritos, candy, and soda (which schools make plenty of money on and often use to fund other programs like sports and arts) could be disappearing from school hallways and cafeterias.

Now for the bad news: while kids will be eating better at school, it's likely that many of their families will see their food budgets shrink. Yesterday, in order to prevent teacher layoffs and Medicaid cuts (read a long explanation of this here, if you like), the Senate also voted to take $12 billion out of SNAP (formerly Food Stamps).

It's hard to argue against funding Medicaid and making sure teachers have jobs, yes, but it's also impossible to ignore this nugget of information also released this week: SNAP/Food Stamp enrollment is now at an all-time record high of 40.8 billion, and participation has set all-time record highs every month for the last 18 months.

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