Though school officials, nutritionists, parents, and students have decried First Lady Michelle Obama’s school lunch program, the $1 trillion CRomnibus (part “continuing resolution” and part “omnibus”) does not include relief from the unpopular meals standards after all.
Daren Bakst at The Daily Signal notes that the spending bill does not include, as was anticipated, a temporary waiver, so that schools could get some relief from the onerous standards.
As the Associated Press (AP) has reported, school officials have lobbied for a reprieve from the school meal regulations that have required an increase in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as limits on the amounts of sodium, sugar and fat.
Breitbart News observed in September that an investigative report in Cincinnati found the First Lady’s school lunch requirements are wasting $4 million a day in food thrown away by children who dislike the meals.
In addition, the same article pointed to a Harvard study of Mrs. Obama’s program that found “60 percent of fresh vegetables and 40 percent of fresh fruit are being thrown away.”
House Republicans have said the school meals program represents a federal overreach, and a House Agriculture Appropriations bill approved over the summer included waivers for schools that have been losing money on the school meal program. The waivers, however, were only temporary and amounted to a one-year reprieve that would allow schools to opt out of the program if they lost money on meals over a period of six months.
According to the AP, however, Republicans avoided a decision on the waiver over the summer after Mrs. Obama adamantly protested and the White House threatened a veto. Ultimately, the GOP pulled the provision and blamed the move on scheduling issues.
The chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the school meal appropriations, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), reportedly was pushing a broad waiver from the First Lady’s school meals in the current spending bill, and Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and John Hoeven (R-ND), said both the House and Senate were negotiating over the idea.
The CRomnibus, states the Signal, contains “two narrow provisions” that “make the very modest waiver included in the Agriculture Appropriations bill look like a major reform.” Those provisions involve holding off on the sodium requirements until research proves lower sodium is a benefit to children, and having schools show the whole grains requirement is a hardship for them to comply with the law.
Last week, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) released the results of its survey regarding the top concerns about the school meal program. The survey found the majority of school meal program operators nationally “face multiple serious challenges under new federal nutrition standards.”
Additionally, more than half of school meal program operators surveyed anticipate that their program expenses will exceed revenue this school year. Only 18% anticipate their programs will break even, while 29% are unsure if costs will exceed revenue.
According to the survey, “increased food costs” were the number one challenge of the key issues facing school nutrition programs. Other highly ranked issues were “increased plate/food waste,” “sodium requirements” and “decreased lunch participation.”
The law governing the First Lady’s school meal program expires next year, says AP, suggesting that both House Republicans and a new Republican Senate might eventually make changes to the standards.