To fund the federal government and avoid a government shutdown, while also specially carving out funding for the Department of Homeland Security,* this week Congress is on track to pass the so-called “CRomnibus” — a combination of a continuing resolution and an omnibus spending bill. (I thought I was the only person who, upon hearing “CRomnibus” could only think of a “cronut,” but apparently I’m not alone.)
Worked into the CRomnibus are several important provisions regarding school meals.
First, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog or following news reports, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, has long been fighting to allow school districts to entirely opt-out of the new, healthier school meal standards for one year if they can show prior financial distress in meeting those standards. This so-called “waiver” provision has been enthusiastically supported by the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the nation’s largest organization of school food professionals, despite the fact that the SNA supported these same healthy nutritional standards when they were first adopted.
The good news is that the waiver provision did not make it into the CRomnibus, which means that, as of now at least, schools must continue to abide by all of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s regulations, including the hotly contested provision which currently requires students to take 1/2 cup of fruits or vegetables with their lunch instead of being able to pass those foods by.
However, the SNA and House Republicans were still able to work some of their desired provisions into the bill. Specifically, school districts which can demonstrate hardship in meeting the HHFKA’s new, 100% “whole-grain-rich” standard (which requires that all grain foods served contain at least 51% whole grain) will not be penalized for failing to meet this standard. It’s not yet clear, however, how schools are to make this showing of hardship, and in any case they’ll still need to meet the lower standard of 50% of grain foods being “whole grain rich.” In addition, the CRomnibus language freezes current levels of sodium in school meals until the USDA can demonstrate that scheduled, further reductions in sodium are beneficial to children’s health.
But before anyone concludes that the battle over school meal standards is now over, it’s important to remember that absence of the controversial waiver language in the CRomnibus only reflects the fact that the Senate is still controlled by Democrats, which will no longer be true come January. And next year also marks the every-five-year re-funding of federal child nutrition programs, commonly known as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, or the CNR. That’s when the war over school meals will heat up considerably, and I’ll have more thoughts in the coming weeks on what parents can do to help preserve healthier nutrition standards. (In the meantime, I’ll link to my New York Times piece from October, “As Lobbyists and Politicians Shout It Out Over School Lunch, Can Parents Be Heard?”)
And now let’s turn to the issue of Chinese-processed chicken in school meals. As you know, I and my colleague Nancy Huehnergarth started a Change.org petition seeking to prevent the use of such poultry in all federal child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, due to serious concerns about China’s food safety record. As of today, almost 330,000 people have joined us in this effort, and we are beyond pleased to report that — thanks to the efforts of Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) — the CRomnibus currently contains this language:
SEC. 736. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to procure processed poultry products imported into the United States from the People’s Republic of China for use in the school lunch program under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1751 et seq.), the Child and Adult Food Care Program under section 17 of such Act (42 U.S.C. 1766), the Summer Food Service Program for Children under section 13 of such Act (42 U.S.C. 1761), or the school breakfast program under the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (4223 U.S.C. 1771 et seq.).
It’s our hope that this language will go unchallenged and appear in the final bill to be signed into law by President Obama. We will of course keep you posted, and thank you all for your support of this important campaign.
* This relates to the fight between Congressional Republicans and President Obama over immigration; you can read more here.
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