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Child Nutrition Bill Clears Big Hurdle

July 19, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - A U.S. House committee has taken the first step to reauthorize federal food programs, from school and summer lunches to nutrition help for low-income mothers and young children. For more than a year, the programs' fate has been up in the air and their funding runs out at the end of September, so Friday's vote is a ray of hope for Oregon groups that provide food assistance.

The vote in the Education and Labor Committee was 32 to 13, with Oregon Rep. David Wu among those voting in favor.

Jeff Kleen, public policy advocate with the Oregon Food Bank Network, says the fact that three Republicans were among the "Yes" votes says a lot about the importance of the legislation.

"This is the first time this committee has done anything in a bipartisan fashion this year. It speaks to the fact that this is something that both parties care about, and rightly so, because we're talking about feeding hungry kids."

Kleen says the bill is being presented as a way to reform the programs, by improving nutrition and food safety and making a push to get kids healthier. He adds that those who voted for the bill see it as an issue of "pay now, or pay later."

"We can make investments now and get healthy kids and address both nutrition and obesity, or we can pay a lot more later, when we're facing the consequences of those issues."

Kleen says even those House committee members who voted "No" didn't dispute the need for the food programs, but they are concerned about the cost, an estimated $8 billion over the next ten years. The Senate version of the bill is $4.5 billion. Schools and social service agencies are hoping for a compromise the President can sign by this fall.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR