For millions of children, a free and healthy lunch


Last week, while we were focused on D.C.'s gap closing budget, the House delivered a tremendous victory for the nation's most vulnerable children by passing the long-awaited Child Nutrition Bill. Passed by the Senate this summer, the bill prevailed in the House with bipartisan support and now goes to the White House for President Obama's signature. (Read the Post story.)

The bill boosts federal funding on child nutrition programs by $4.5 billion over the next decade and raise federal reimbursements for free and reduced-price lunches provided by schools above the inflation rate for the first time since 1973. Its passage was a key priority for Michelle Obama, who has made child nutrition and fitness a key focus of her effort to address childhood obesity.

The bill also fuels the growing movement toward healthier school lunches with more fresh veggies and fruit, and requires schools to provide free drinking water along with meals -- to discourage children from drinking sugary beverages and soda.

Meanwhile, here in the District, the Mayor's gap-closing plan would eliminate $5 million in funding that is necessary to implement the recently passed Healthy Foods Act, essentially gutting the city's nascent program to provide more nutritious meals in schools and integrated health and wellness programs. It is a low blow that hurts our children most. More than 40 percent of families with children in the District report suffering from "food hardship" -- the inability to put enough food on the table every day, according to FRAC. Indeed, childhood hunger and obesity go hand in hand and both spike during times of need, when parents are forced to cut their household budget.

As one teacher aptly observed, "the last thing on a hungry child's mind is learning." That's powerful. 

The Council votes tomorrow on Mayor Fenty's budget plan. It's not too late to call or email your Council member and urge him or her to vote against this heartless cut. Their contact information is here