Aderholt seeks to roll back Obamas’ costly school lunch regulations
WASHINGTON — Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) has taken the lead on trying to roll back costly school lunch regulations that have been a priority for the Obama Administration, especially the First Lady.
The Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which Aderholt chairs, yesterday passed a bill to fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture , the Food & Drug Administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Farm Credit Administration.
“This bill supports programs that our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities rely on every day, and will help these small areas to grow and prosper,” said Aderholt, who chairs the Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee. “In addition, the bill will help ensure that our food supply is safe and healthy for all Americans, and provide nutrition assistance for the most vulnerable among us, including children and the elderly.”
The bill also includes language that provides schools an opportunity to apply for a waiver if they are experiencing financial difficulty meeting the nutrition standards created by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
The bill was part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which has the stated goal of reducing childhood obesity. It gave the USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods sold in schools, including vending machines, “a la carte” lunch lines, and school stores. The USDA has since then set limits on the amount of fat, calories, sugar and sodium in school foods. The Act also increased the number of children eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.
But while the Obama Administration and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers saw the program as a positive step toward reducing childhood hunger and obesity, others saw it as another onerous government regulation that would difficult and expensive to implement across the nation.
Since the regulations began being phased in two years ago, schools around the country have scrambled to seek relief from skyrocketing costs associated with the program.
According to the Associated Press, “The School Nutrition Association says that almost half of school meal programs reported declines in revenue in the 2012-13 school year and 90 percent said food costs were up.”
As a result, a group of Republicans led by Rep. Aderholt included language in the USDA funding bill to begin returning control to schools at the local level.
“Much has been said about the waiver language provided for the school meals program,” Aderholt said. “Based upon some of the comments I am not sure that they have actually read the language in the bill as it merely provides a temporary waiver for those schools that are having difficulty making the economic realities of the new federal regulations work with the economic realities in their school district.
“The new USDA regulations are far reaching and have come too fast for local school districts to swallow,” he continued. “As such they have upset the economics of the school meals program by driving the cost of the plate up while pushing participation down. This is causing some school systems to abandon the school meals program altogether.”
Adeholt said that his first-hand experience in school lunchrooms in Alabama led him to push for the temporary waivers until Congress considers renewing the school foods law in 2015.
“I have been in the school lunchroom, I have sat down with the individuals responsible for preparing student meals, and I have sat down with the students about this,” he explained. “As well-intended as the people in Washington believe themselves to be, the reality is that from a practical standpoint these regulations are just plain not working out in some individual school districts.”
Advocates for stricter school nutrition laws lashed out at Republicans, accusing them of “taking a step backward and allowing schools to serve more unhealthy food to children.”
But Aderholt believes he is siding with schools whose budgets have been stretched to the breaking point by onerous government regulations.
“I am standing with our nation’s schools to provide them the flexibility they are requesting from Congress,” he said. “The language in this bill simply provides those schools that are having difficulty complying with the regulations the ability to obtain a temporary, one year waiver.”
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