House bill trims WIC, allows waivers from school nutrition standards
by Jay Sjerven
WASHINGTON — The House Committee on Appropriations on May 19 unveiled its 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which was referred to the committee’s agriculture subcommittee for mark-up. The bill would trim some nutrition program funding and allow some schools to obtain waivers from federal nutrition standards for their school lunch and breakfast programs.
The bill would provide for $142.5 billion in mandatory and discretionary funding for the nation’s agriculture, food safety and nutrition programs. This total would be $3 billion less than was enacted for fiscal 2014 and fell $1.5 billion below President Barack Obama’s budget request. The bill would authorize $20.9 billion in discretionary funding in fiscal 2015, about equal to the fiscal 2014 enacted level.
The committee’s bill would provide $6.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The proposed funding was $93 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $200 million below President Obama’s request.
“The bill reflects the US Department of Agriculture’s estimates of declining enrollments in the program and will not prevent an eligible participant from receiving benefits,” the committee leadership said.
The bill would provide for required mandatory funding of $20.5 billion for child nutrition programs, which would be $1.2 billion above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.
At the same time, the bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a process by which a state shall grant a waiver from compliance with the Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs for the 2014-15 school year “to any school food authority located in the state that verifies a net loss from operating a food service program for a period of at least six months that began on or after July 1, 2013.” The committee leadership said the measure was in response to requests from local schools.
The proposal to provide waivers from the government’s nutrition standards drew an angry retort from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“The House bill would undermine the effort to provide kids with more nutritious food and would be a major step backwards for the health of American children, just at the time childhood obesity rates are finally starting to level off,” Vilsack said. “School nutrition standards are developed by independent experts, over 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully implementing them, and studies show they are working the help kids be healthier. The US Department of Agriculture has continued to show flexibility in implementing these new standards, and Congress should focus on partnering with the USDA, states, schools, and parents to help our kids have access to more healthy food, not less.”
The bill would provide for $82.3 billion in mandatory funding for the Special Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which would be $81 million above the fiscal year 2014 level but $2 billion below President Obama’s budget request. The total would include $3 billion for the SNAP reserve fund, which is used to cover any unexpected participation increases. The president had requested a reserve fund of $5 billion.