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USDA makes case for reauthorization of children’s hunger act

SARAFINA WRIGHT | 9/14/2015, 10:09 a.m.
The future of child nutrition such as the School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, Summer Food Service Program and ...
The Dallas Examiner Logo Photo by Robyn H. Jimenez

(NNPA) – The future of child nutrition such as the School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, Summer Food Service Program and the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children remains unknown as those living with food insecurity nervously await their fate.

The Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, pleaded his case on Sept. 1 at the Center for American Progress in Northwest as to why Congress should reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

“Seventy-six percent of U.S. teachers report children come to school hungry,” Vilsack said. “I know I don’t perform well when I am hungry, and neither do kids.”

Signed into law in December of 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act set new and improved standards for nutrition in schools as well as providing states with $4.5 billion in resources in order to implement the changes.

“We understand that some school districts may have a hard time implementing the new standards and we’re here to help them,” Vilsack said. “The state of Louisiana has not used a dime of the money. We encourage all the states to use the funds. There is still $28.2 million unspent.”

Vilsack contends that the future of the U.S. depends on the priority of child nutrition.

“I want to make the case that this issue is as significant as national security and central to our economic competition particularly against our Asian counterparts,” he said.

Vilsack claims that according to retired U.S. generals, the national obesity epidemic threatens our national security by making 1-in-3 young adults unfit to serve in the nation’s military.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act focuses on improving nutrition and reducing childhood obesity.

The bill gives the USDA the authority to set nutritional standards, provide additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards, sets basic standards for school wellness policies, and allows more universal meal access to eligible students.

“We are working to reduce the stigmatization of food programs in this country,” Vilsack said. “Oftentimes in schools there is a ‘hey you’re a free and reduced kid, and I’m not.’”

Vilsack served as governor of Iowa for eight years before being tapped by then-President-elect Barack Obama to lead the USDA in 2008.

“For many people who work at the USDA, this issue of child nutrition is personal. We sit down with kids living with food insecurity. It’s especially personal for me,” Vilsack said. “I was adopted from a Catholic orphanage as a child, and to deal with the substance abuse problems in the home I turned to food.”

“In fourth grade I was accused of not being able to do a math problem because I was fat. I know what battling self-image does to a kid, how it throws you off your game and the problems it creates for kids on the playground,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack insists resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provide an entryway for low-income families to be able to purchase fruits and vegetables that significantly contribute to the decrease of childhood obesity.