The House on Thursday passed a child nutrition bill that contains elements crucial to First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" anti-childhood obesity drive launched last February.
The measure passed 264-157 after President Obama and White House Chief of Staff Pete Rouse helped calm Congressional Black Caucus fears that the poor will get shortchanged because of curbs in future food stamp benefits to help pay for the bill.
The measure now heads to the president for signing.
Mrs. Obama said in a statement, "I am so thrilled that the House of Representatives has passed "The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" -- a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that will significantly improve the quality of meals that children receive at school and will play an integral role in our efforts to combat childhood obesity."
The first lady urged passage of the legislation in at least 20 speeches plus interviews. Mrs. Obama never traveled to Capitol Hill to rally support for the bill but I am told by a staffer the "first lady also spoke with key members of Congress at selected times about the status of the legislation and ways she could be supportive."
The major snag was over how to fund healthier school meals and related programs. The deal called for cuts in future food stamp benefits, which alarmed members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rouse met with CBC members at a White House session to listen to their concerns, and President Obama dropped in for a quick visit. In the end, the White House pledged at some future time to deal with the food stamp issue.
In a Dec. 1 statement, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the CBC would back the bill because "with poverty and childhood obesity on the rise, this legislation achieves the twin goals of expanding the pool of needy children who are eligible for school nutrition programs while establishing healthier meal guidelines for American schools."
She added, however, "It is unfortunate that in order to pass The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act it comes at the expense of future Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program funding. As more Americans slip into poverty and unemployment remains at painfully high levels, we should not have to choose between feeding poor children or their parents at a time that some in Congress argue for a $700 billion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.
"We know that President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus share the same concerns and have the same commitment to protect vital human needs programs, especially in these difficult economic times. President Obama has given us his guarantee that these cuts will be restored in the future and that he will reiterate his commitment to do so."
Christine Tobin, president of the American Diabetes Association, said in a statement, "This legislation represents a historic improvement in federal child nutrition programs at a time when our kids gravely need it. The investment in child nutrition this bill makes will help us combat both the childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemics."