by Jane Black
A child nutrition bill that was a centerpiece of Michelle Obama's healthful eating campaign stalled in the House on Wednesday after anti-hunger groups and more than 100 Democrats protested the use of food-stamp dollars to pay for it.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate this summer, would have mandated strict nutrition standards for all food sold in schools and boosted spending on school meals and other nutrition programs by $4.5 billion over 10 years — the first increase since 1973. The legislation must be reauthorized every five years. In 2009, Congress passed a one-year extension.
Anti-hunger advocates denounced the bill, which was to be funded in part by $2 billion in cuts to the federal food stamp program, or SNAP. The reduction, according to the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center, would have cut $59 from a typical family of four's monthly food budget. Calling such cuts egregious, 106 Democrats wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in protest.
"That additional amount of food stamps is absolutely fundamental to children and families' well-being," said Jim Weil, FRAC's president. "The people who belittle that are ignoring at their peril what is happening to the 41 million poorest people in the country."
Casting the funding as cuts to the SNAP program is a mischaracterization, however, public health advocates say. The $2 billion would have come from a temporary increase to SNAP that was passed in 2009 to cover a predicted inflation of food prices that never materialized.
All 106 signatories voted for a bill, passed in August, that took $12 billion from the temporary SNAP increase to pay for teachers' jobs.