Release No. 0351.10
USDA Office of Communications (202) 720-4623
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack
Discusses Importance of Child Nutrition Reauthorization and WIC Programs
WASHINGTON, July 1, 2010 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today testified
on the pending legislation to reform and reauthorize USDA's
Child Nutrition Programs and
Supplemental Nutrition Program
for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) before the U.S. House of
Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.
Below are excerpts from Secretary Vilsack's prepared testimony:
"The Administration is strongly committed to passing legislation this year
that reduces child hunger and improves the quality of school meals and the
health of the school environment.
"I thank Chairman Miller for his leadership on this issue. The legislation he
recently introduced would achieve a number of the policy priorities of the Obama
Administration. The strong letter of support from 221 Members of the House of
Representatives for a robust Child Nutrition Reauthorization, along with the
bipartisan Senate action and the Chairman's bill show that there is broad
support for this important legislation.
"As the number of remaining legislative days continues to get smaller, I urge
this Committee to continue your work and to act quickly and forcefully on this
legislation in order to provide all of our children with the healthy meals that
are so important to their health and education. If we are going to support our
children, we must pass a strong bill this year.
"To state it simply, we are here today because school meals matter, as does
the nutritional assistance provided through the WIC, the Child and Adult Care
Food Program and in gap periods like weekends, afterschool and summer. Our
schools are on the frontline of efforts to improve childhood nutrition, our
collective health, and the future of our great Nation.
"The importance of school meals is underscored by the current state of the
health and nutrition of our nation's children. Obesity is our fastest growing
public health issue as roughly 1 of every 3 American children is overweight or
obese. At the same time, lack of access to proper nutrition is not only fueling
obesity, it is leading to food insecurity and hunger among our children.
Meanwhile, school-age children are not eating the recommended level of fruits,
vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products according to a 2009
Institute of Medicine report.
"This status quo increases our nation's health care bill, it affects our
ability to recruit a for the military, and most importantly it will not let us
produce the generation of well-educated, healthy kids who will be competitive in
the global economy of the 21st century.
"For all of these reasons, we must take steps to streamline access, improve
the quality of school meals, increase participation, and work to eliminate
childhood hunger in this country. Bold action with reauthorization must include
the following elements:
1) Improving access to the school nutrition programs must be a priority. I'm
calling on Congress to provide tools to increase participation, streamline
applications, and eliminate gap periods when we know children struggle to
receive the nutrition they need. The object should be to ensure – particularly
in low-income communities where children are at high risk for obesity – that
every child eats the food they need. I call on you to support a new program of
State Hunger Challenge Grants so States can be the laboratories for successful
strategies to address this problem.
We should offer grants to states and non-profit organizations to develop
systems to streamline the application process. Congress should to provide USDA
with the tools necessary to establish paperless application programs in school
districts with very high rates of children with free and reduced price-eligible
students. And, we must expand on the successes we have experienced with direct
Through these reforms, I believe that we will be able to increase
participation in these programs by one million children in the next five years.
2) Increasing financial support and expanding participation in School
Breakfast must be part of reauthorization. On school days, almost two-thirds of
children who participate in the lunch program do not participate in the school
breakfast program. This reauthorization is an opportunity to reduce stigma and
promote participation in the breakfast program. I call on Congress to increase
the reimbursement rate for school breakfasts and combine that support with
USDA-purchased foods. And, I call on K-12 organizations and States to work with
USDA to aggressively promote the breakfast option.
3) Our efforts to combat hunger must continue in the summer, when more
children report going hungry . Working with local governments, nonprofit
organizations and community groups, USDA must continue to encourage more
schools, community centers and organizations to offer summer meals and for more
days. And we should expand the existing authority of the Child and Adult Care
Food Program to all 50 states to provide after-school meals to at-risk kids. We
should build on funding in the Fiscal Year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill
by offering support for creative solutions in feeding children nutritious snacks
and meals after school, on weekends, and during the summer.
4) But no matter how many children we reach, we do them a disservice if we
are not offering them meals that help them be their best. Reauthorization must
substantially improve the nutritional quality of the meals being served to our
children. USDA is working as aggressively as possible to implement the Institute
of Medicine recommendations to better align our meals with the Dietary
Guidelines, but we also know that the improved foods will increase costs for
local schools. The Institute of Medicine report showed that increases in
reimbursement rates, training, school equipment, and technical assistance will
be necessary to implement this package. And I am calling on Congress to provide
support for these changes.
Recognizing that many schools do not have the equipment in place to improve
food selections, the reauthorization should build upon the investments in
equipment made by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. At the same time,
we should create a credentialing program for school food service directors, and
support school food service providers with resources for the critical training
they need to do their jobs.
5) The reauthorization effort should ensure that all foods served in schools
are healthy and nutritious. USDA must have the capacity to set standards for all
the foods served and sold in schools. It does not mean the end of vending
machines in schools – it just means filling them with nutritious offerings to
make a healthy choice the easy choice for our nation's children. I have heard
nothing but broad support for efforts to establish standards from food service
professionals to the National PTA to the food industry.
6) Making sure that parents and students have correct and complete
nutritional information about foods being served in schools must be part of the
reauthorization effort as well. With better information and simple assessments,
parents will know what is available in their child's cafeteria and can better
assist their children in making the right nutritional choices.
7) Strengthening the link between local farmers and school cafeterias must
also remain a priority in this legislation. Supporting farm-to-school programs
will increase the amount of produce available to cafeterias and help to support
local farmers by establishing regular, institutional buyers.
8) Guaranteeing the integrity of the nutrition programs with support for new
technology and periodic studies also remains central to a credible
"The health of our nation – of our economy, our communities, and our national
security – depends on the health of our children. We will not succeed if our
children are not learning as they should because they are hungry, and cannot
achieve their dreams because they are unhealthy. That is I want to continue to
urge your hard work in passing a strong bill this year.
"I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to appear before you
this morning to discuss the reauthorization of the USDA's Child Nutrition
Programs and I look forward to answering any questions that you may have."