The legacy of Chairman John Kline is marked by an ongoing battle over school nutrition programs … and a battle that he is taking to the end of his tenure.
Actually, congressional focus on school nutrition dates back to the National School Lunch Act of 1946. Then it was passed as a matter of national security – the military’s concern then was that malnourishment would render American youth unfit to defend the nation.
So one might think that would impact Chairman Kline thinking but instead he has rejected military concerns … such as when the Education committee heard from military leaders calling on Congress to address an issue that “threatens to diminish our military strength and put our national security interests at risk. ”
The message : “Our school districts need the resources to offer our children more vegetables, fruits and whole grains as well as products with less sugar, sodium, fat and calories in school cafeterias and vending machines. Yes, this will mean increasing funding for child nutrition programs. But with our nation spending at least $75 billion a year on medical expenses related to obesity, we think these steps will pay off over the long term.”
H.R.5504, the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act was approved by the committee on a bipartisan vote … with John Kline voting NO.
(for more information on this, read : MN-02 : Kline – Penny UnWise, Pounds Foolish)
That was then, this is now and John Kline continues to waged a battle over school nutrition programs … sometimes getting support from the School Nutrition Association (SNA), a group representing school cafeteria programs that’s mostly bankrolled by big food companies including General Mills, a major contributor to the Kline For Congress campaigns … prompting Chairman Kline to complain “These regulations have created an environment where students are not getting the nourishment they need, and food and taxpayer dollars wind up in the trashcan.”
And his latest effort is H.R. 5003 Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016.
Such a sweet sounding bill that would roll back evidence-based standards made in the existing legislation — gutting sodium standards, blocking scientific evidence from the USDA, and allowing junk food to be counted as an acceptable food.
OK … that’s bad … but Chairman Kline’s committee was given an opportunity to actually do some basic good … they considered two amendments :
— require USDA to set up a process to ensure state compliance with potable water requirements
— provide funding for nationwide water testing in schools and child care settings
Yeah … clean drinkable water … something that the media is now recognizing as a real problem for students in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Durham NC, Jackson MS, etc … heck, just this week New Jersey reported eleven school districts have elevated lead levels …
But that was not a concern for Republicans on Chairman Kline’s committee as they defeated those amendments.
H.R. 5003 was approved by Chairman Kline’s committee … with all Democrats voting NO.
Prompting an OpEd (Highlights below) :
Editorial: Bill will hurt schoolkids
Short-term gains sometimes come at a greater long-term cost. The debacle in Flint, Michigan, is a prime example of this phenomenon.
Sure, local and state governments were able to save a few bucks by switching the city’s water source from Lake Michigan via Detroit to the polluted Flint River, but the mitigation and harmful aftereffects will outweigh any temporary savings by many, many times over.
While not exactly the same situation, a bill authored by Rep. Todd Rokita would see the same equation play out.
The bill currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives would change the federal requirements for schools to offer free meals
Rokita and Kline might be right in that this saves money in the short term, but children who won’t get a decent meal because of this will be suffering for years. Hungry children can’t learn, and this is the only meal some get all day.
Many organizations across the political spectrum have rightly spoken out against these changes, including The Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Governors Association and the School Nutrition Association.
Like the children of Flint, the children harmed by this legislation will be the long-term victims of short-term savings. And savings that incur more costs aren’t savings at all.
“The bill would significantly weaken access to healthy, nutritious foods for our nation’s children,” said Dr. Benard Dreyer, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American Heart Association sharply criticized the legislation, saying it could mean that some children go hungry at school.
The bill would create a block grant program for school meals – meaning states would no longer receive unlimited federal dollars for students who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunches, and states wouldn’t have to follow most federal nutrition standards.
The block grant provision prompted opposition from the School Nutrition Association, which called the block grant idea “reckless” and said it would be a first step toward eliminating the federal guarantee that all children have access to the nutrition they need at school.
[Heck, these Republicans don’t want to test the water that kids drink … why would they care if they get a meal?]
The bill would mean fewer students would receive free and reduced-price meals as it would raise the threshold for a government program called Community Eligibility Provision, in which schools in districts with high poverty rates can provide free meals to all students at the school. To be eligible for CEP, school districts currently have to demonstrate that at least 40 percent of their students are already certified for free mails through such programs as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The Republicans proposed to increase that to 80 % … garnering the support of Rick Allen (R-GA-12), David Brat (R-VA-07), Virginia Foxx (R-NC-05), Glenn Grothman (R-WI-06), Duncan Hunter (R-CA-52), Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN-01), Steve Russell (R-OK-05) and Matt Salmon (R-AZ-05).
Considering that the House bill would have to be approved by the Senate, the 80% threshold was rejected … and replaced by a 60% … yet that means that 18,669 schools would be impacted … including over 100 schools in Minnesota and over 4,700 children.
School nutrition legislation may not be a deciding factor on who you vote for in November … but it does force you to think … if Republicans are so willing to reject concern for clean water and “reform” school lunches so that the egibility is strictly reduced and funding threatened by reduced “block grant” funding, what else would they cut ? Err … as they would say, “reform” instead of cut … like social security, Medicare, and every other domestic program.
The Republicans seeking to replace John Kline have been quite vocal …
Endorsed candidate Jason Lewis :
We need across the board budget reductions to get our federal finances in order once and for all
John Howe :
“I am passionate about addressing the debt and it’s increasingly destructive influence on our future. It is imperative that we reduce spending and stimulate the economy if we are serious about addressing the elephant in the room.”
Darlene Miller :
“I will take a businessperson’s approach to the budget — funding our priorities while cutting waste and balancing the budget.”
Yep, they all sound like they would be willing to gut school nutrituion programs … and so much more.
Remember that OpEd assessment … “Like the children of Flint, the children harmed by this legislation will be the long-term victims of short-term savings.
And savings that incur more costs aren’t savings at all.”
Conversely, voters will also have DFLer Angie Craig on November’s ballot.
Angie grew up in a trailer park with a single mom and two siblings. Her Mother worked her way through college to become a teacher and instilled a drive for success in her children. Angie said despite her surroundings, she always felt like she was going to college and would have success no matter the obstacles.
Through education, affordable college, equality, and opportunity, Angie rose through the corporate ranks to become an executive in a Fortune 500 company.
Now, she is running for Congress to make sure all families have the same path to success and to preserve the American Dream for future generations.
For me, the choice is clear … Angie Craig for Minnesota families.