The U.S. House approved $82.8 billion for federal nutrition programs ranging from food stamps to school lunch on Wednesday, including a plan to compensate poor families for lunches missed during flu epidemics.
The money is part of a $121 billion funding bill for the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration for the fiscal year that began Oct 1. Nutrition spending would rise by $6.6 billion from fiscal 2009, a reflection of the recession.
If schools are closed at least five days in a row due to epidemics, the government could aid to families with children who receive free or reduced-price lunches under a provision in the bill. The aid would be worth roughly $13.50 a week per child, based on the local price for lunch.
The initiative will mean child nutrition is not overlooked in the midst of a pandemic emergency, said the School Nutrition Association.
Representatives passed the bill, 263-163, and sent it to the Senate.
More than half of the 32 million children who participate in the school lunch program receive free or reduced-price meals. Child nutrition programs would get $16.9 billion under the bill, an increase of $1.9 billion from fiscal 2009. The Women, Infants and Children food program would get $7.25 billion, up $398 million.
Food stamps, the premiere federal antihunger program, would get $58.3 billion for fiscal 2010, a $4.3 billion increase. Nearly one in eight Americans received food stamps at latest count.
Included in the bill is a one-year extension of child nutrition programs, which were due for renewal in 2009.
Also in the bill are:
-- $350 billion in aid for dairy farmers, who face the lowest farm-gate price for milk in three decades. USDA will decide how to apportion $290 million in aid directly to farmers. The remaining $60 million will buy cheese and other dairy products for donation to food banks;
-- a resolution to a two-year-old ban on imports of poultry meat processed in China. USDA must inspect Chinese plants before shipments are allowed, must conduct audits annually and step up inspections of their products at U.S. ports of entry;
-- a minimal $5.3 million for a livestock tracking system. The traceback plan was embraced as a response to discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease. Lawmakers say USDA showed inconsistent leadership and the system is far from ready to operate.
If significant progress is not made, (we) will consider eliminating funding for the program, said the House and Senate negotiators who wrote the final version of the bill.