robbing peter to pay paul

Goddamnit, I am giving up on today.

On the heels of Sen. Richard Lugar’s op-ed in the Times today, comes news that via a manager’s amendment, the offsets for the $4.5 billion Senate  child nutrition bill will come from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps).

That’s right, the best way to pay for school lunch and breakfast is to cut food stamps.

(head explodes)

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA, aka the stimulus bill) provided more money for SNAP by increasing benefits for those already in the program, relaxing requirements for the childless unemployed (because adults need food too), and providing more admin money to work through all these changes.  The increase was to be gradually phased out by 2018.

Makes sense, right?  Higher unemployment=more food insecure* hungry Americans=more on or needing food stamps.

The manager’s amendment would end the increases in 2016, full stop.

Let me assure you, there are many, in fact too many, kids who depend on school meals (breakfast, lunch, summer feeding programs, and after school/weekend feeding programs) as an important and sometime primary source of food.  That’s why we see food insecurity hunger rise among kids during the summer- no school means no lunch.  Since 1969, the number of children participating in the school lunch program has increased steadily, along with the number of kids eating free and reduced price lunches- the kids whose families are most likely to need SNAP.  SNAP participation rates have fluctuated a bit more, but have been on the rise since 2000.

I am left sputtering and incoherent.  The Senate has proposed a raid on SNAP to fund various other projects- the unemployment extension, higher Medicaid payments to states, even a small business bill.  Say what you will about these plans(I, for one, take issue with some of the tax credit extension in the unemployment act), SNAP is not the way to fund them.

That pales in comparison though, so allow me to repeat myself: the best way to pay for school lunch and breakfast is to cut food stamps.

Ugh.  I give up.

*- I despise the terms “food insecure” and “food security”.  You are not food insecure, you are hungry.  However, this has become the accepted terminology, so I provide it.  Also, the concept of food security, to me at least, encompasses far more than whether your stomach is full when you go to bed at night.  And it differs dramatically depending on whether the debate is domestic or international.

Michelle Obama and Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Michelle Obama has added her voice to the many others calling for passage of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill.

A quick recap, if you haven’t been following:

The current bill expires September 30.  The president’s 2011 budget requested $10 billion over 10 years to fund child nutrition.  The money would serve two purposes- increasing participation rates and increasing the quality and nutritional standards of the food being served.  Federal child nutrition programs include the school lunch and breakfast programs, summer and weekend feeding programs, and WIC.

In March, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), chair of the Senate Ag committee introduced the Senate version, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.  It provides $4.5 billion over 10 years in funding.  As of late, she’s been demanding that the bill be brought to the floor (I am certain this has nothing to do with her somewhat dire reelection prospects) for a vote.

In June, Rep. George Miller (D, CA-07), chair of the House Ed and Labor committee introduced the House version, the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010.  It provides $8 billion in funding over 10 years, a figure significantly closer to the president’s request.

Both of the bills have made it through committee, and Sen. Harry Reid has even said he wanted to get the Senate version to the floor before the August recess (ahem).  Obama Foodorama, who has been following this in great detail, has fact sheets on both the House and the Senate versions of the bill.

My thoughts?

Between Rep. Miller unveiling his bill with Rachel Ray, Tom Colicchio testifying in front of the House Ed and Labor Committee and Michelle Obama’s op-ed, there’s been plenty of star power directed towards improving child nutrition.  In the case of Michelle Obama, the either bill (the House version would be preferable, as its close to the original $10 billion number) would be an improvement.  And, while at the end of the day, all that matters is that we get a bill, I do wish that she had lent her voice earlier.  Coupled with some extra push by the administration, perhaps we could have gotten the full $10 billion.

*full disclosure: as I’ve mentioned, I work for an organization that deals in food policy, and we have been actively campaigning for the passage of a child nutrition reauthorization bill, preferably the House version.