“In a powerful, rich country, none of us should be satisfied that there are children going to bed hungry,” said Vilsack.
Vilsack noted that progress has already begun on President-elect Obama’s pledge to end child hunger by 2015. Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle recently met with Vilsack to discuss collaboration between the two departments, including work on programs that would increase children’s access to fresh fruit and vegetables and improve the quality of school meals.
“It’s going to be important for us to promote fresh fruits and vegetables as part of our children’s diets,” continued Vilsack. “That means supporting those who supply these products and making it easier for consumers to buy locally grown products.”
The Agriculture Department faces a hard year, with US agricultural exports expected to fall and the demand for emergency food continuing to rise. As Secretary, Vilsack would first be responsible for enacting the $290 billion Farm Bill, passed last year after months of debate and administrative delays. The Farm Bill included $289 billion in federal nutrition funding over the next ten years.
In addition to those fund, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act could also provide critical funding to help Obama achieve his campaign pledge. The Reauthorization Act includes funding for free school meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides a first line of defense against child hunger. Vilsack and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chair Tom Harkin emphasized the importance of the $15 billion Reauthorization Act for combating childhood hunger and obesity. The Food Research Action Center (FRAC) urged Vilsack and agricultural committee members to push for higher enrollment rates in child nutrition programs, especially free lunch programs, where enrollment has hovered at 50% of qualified recipients.
The Senate panel, including ranking Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of