The House of Representatives has passed the $4.5 billion Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, the Associated Press reports, by a margin of 264-157. The Senate passed a version in August, and the final version should be arriving on President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law before long. Democrats had been especially worried about passing the Child Nutrition Act in recent weeks, and held events featuring the likes of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio to encourage supporters. First Lady Michelle Obama has campaigned on behalf of healthier school lunches for the better part of 2010 as part of "Let's Move" anti-obesity initiative.
The Child Nutrition Act had inspired controversy among both Democrats, who were upset to see $2.2 billion of its funding come from food stamps, and Republicans:
Republicans said the bill is too expensive and an example of government overreach. Even former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has weighed in, bringing cookies to a speech at a Pennsylvania school last month and calling efforts to limit junk foods in schools a "nanny state run amok."
Democrats said the legislation is needed to stem rising health care costs due to expanding American waistlines and to feed hungry children in tough economic times. The bill would increase eligibility for school lunches, expand summer feeding programs and provide money to serve the more than 20 million additional after-school meals annually. Most states now only serve after-school snacks.
The legislation would increase the amount of money schools are reimbursed for free lunches by 6 cents a meal, a priority for schools that say they don't have enough money to serve the meals. The new nutrition standards would be written by the Agriculture Department, which would decide which kinds of foods may be sold and what ingredients can be used on school lunch lines and in vending machines.
The new standards would likely keep popular foods like hamburgers and pizza in school cafeterias but make them healthier, using leaner meat or whole wheat crust, for example. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie drinks.
Read the full story at the Associated Press.
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