New Law Advances AFT Goals on Hunger and Nutrition

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On Dec. 13, President Obama signed into law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which updates and expands the National School Lunch Act to help reduce hunger and increase access to healthy food, especially for children in need.

The bill, which the Senate passed unanimously in August and the House approved on a bipartisan vote Dec. 2, will expand after-school supper programs nationwide, better connecting eligible children with free school meals; and it will extend the Women, Infants and Children certification period for children to one year. The new law also will test innovative strategies for ending child hunger and allow research into childhood hunger. What's more, the legislation authorizes federal grants to retain summer food program sponsors, expands and improves breakfast programs, and encourages states to develop strategies for ending child hunger.

The legislation will help make headway against childhood obesity and improve the nutritional value of meals by strengthening nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, providing more funds and training to improve meal quality and supporting farm-to-school programs and school gardens. (See related story.)

The new law also fulfills an AFT resolution passed in 2000 aiming at curbing "competitive foods"—unhealthy treats like sugar- and fat-laden sweets that clubs sell as fundraisers, sometimes daily and sometimes as an alternative to lunch. The legislation applies to all foods sold during regular class hours at school, including cafeterias and vending machines. It doesn't apply after school. The Obama administration has assured schools that its rule-making will not hinder occasional PTA bake sales or concession stands at sports events.

Even with this important progress, the AFT has continued reminding congressional leaders that more must be done to end child hunger by 2015 and prevent childhood obesity. Congress and the administration still must increase access to child nutrition programs—addressing gaps during weekends, summers and breakfast—and strengthen the food stamp program. [Annette Licitra]

December 10, 2010 (Updated January 13, 2011)