Michelle Obama’s disgusting, expensive lunches may soon be out of Alabama schools
WASHINGTON — The US Senate Agriculture Committee this week rolled out legislation to dramatically scale back Michelle Obama’s controversial school lunch program, which has frustrated hungry kids and exasperated cash-strapped public schools.
The Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was part of the First Lady’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 several 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… and 90 percent said food costs were up.”
As a result, a group of Republicans led by Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL4) included language in the 2014 USDA funding bill to begin returning control to schools at the local level.
“The new USDA regulations are far reaching and have come too fast for local school districts to swallow,” Aderholt said at the time. “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.”
According to the AP, the new Senate bill out this week is not as extensive as Aderholt’s proposal, which would have allowed schools to opt out all together, but it still represents a significant scaling back of Mrs. Obama’s top priority.
The AP explains:
The five-year Senate legislation would direct the Agriculture Department to revise the whole grain and sodium standards within 90 days of the bill’s enactment, meaning the new standards could be in place by next school year if Congress acts quickly. Under the agreement between those negotiating the bill, the new rules would scale back the whole grain standards to require that 80 percent of grains on the lunch line must be whole grain rich, or more than half whole grain. Currently, all grains are required to be whole grain rich, though some schools are now allowed to get waivers from that requirement.
Schools have said the whole grain rules were too tough in some cases, as whole grain pasta is harder to cook and some kids don’t like it as much. Southern schools have had problems finding tasty whole grain biscuits and grits; schools in the Southwest say their students reject whole grain tortillas.
The agreement would also delay stricter standards on sodium that are scheduled for the 2017 school year. They would now be delayed two years, and a study would measure the benefits of those reductions.
The legislation would also require the government to figure out how to reduce waste of fruits and vegetables, which children are now required to take on the lunch line. Some just throw them away.
The bill requires the Agriculture Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come up with solutions like sharing tables where children can leave food they don’t want. Some local health authorities have discouraged that approach.
Congressman Adeholt said last year that his first-hand experience in school lunchrooms in Alabama led him to push for changes to Mrs. Obama’s program.
“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.”
With the new Senate legislation coming up for a vote in committee this week, Alabama students and schools are inching closer to getting some relief.