By Meredith Barnett

Today, the NEA-supported “Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act” passed the House of Representatives in a 264-157 vote. The bill, which the Senate unanimously passed in August, expands eligibility for lunch programs and sets nutrition standards for school meals. It is the first increase in school lunch funding since 1973.

“[This] offers a real chance to improve nutrition for all children,” said Kim Anderson, Director of Government Relations at NEA. “By improving opportunities for healthy meals in and out of school, the bill would take an important step forward in addressing both child hunger and obesity.”

The bill is now on its way to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

Once signed into law, the act will allocate an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years to school meal programs, boosting the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches by 6 percent. The number of children eligible for those school meals will increase. The United States Department of Agriculture will use Medicaid data to directly certify students who meet income requirements, providing 115,000 new children with meals, and it will use census data to determine school-wide income eligibility. Further, the act will allow Child and Adult Care Food Program providers like day-care centers, at-risk after-school programs and emergency shelters, to be reimbursed for providing after-school meals.

A vital complement to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity initiative, the act will also allow the USDA to set nutrition standards for all school meals and will require schools to make nutritional information readily available to parents.

“Our national security, economic competitiveness and health and wellness of our children will improve as a result of the action Congress took today,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.