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Letter to Barack Obama, Presidential Candidate of the United States - Funding for Child Programs

Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Dick Lugar (R-IN) and a bipartisan group of 38 senators today urged the incoming Administration to provide new funding in its budget for legislation, due to be enacted this year, to extend, update and improve laws authorizing and funding federally-sponsored school breakfasts and lunches and snacks and meals in after-school and child care settings. In a letter to President-Elect Obama, the lawmakers said added funding for the new legislation is critical to improving child health and for increasing the participation of low-income children, particularly because of deteriorating economic conditions. The lawmakers argued that, despite "a demonstrated history of effectiveness" pressing needs and changing circumstances warrant a significant investment of new funds for these programs. They also explained that enhancing the nutritional quality and healthfulness of foods for children in schools, child care and similar settings is a vital component of reforming the nation's health system, which is expected to be a priority for Congress and the new Administration in the coming year.

"The child nutrition legislation is a tremendous opportunity to make sure the food America's children consume at school are more nutritious, properly balanced and healthful. A serious effort at health reform this year needs to put prevention front and center and a strong, forward-looking child nutrition bill is a key part of that effort," said Harkin. "But we can only capitalize on this opportunity if Congress has the funding necessary. I look forward to working with the President-Elect to make these investments a reality."

"This reauthorization legislation provides a tremendous opportunity to improve the nutritional safety-net for children during the school day, outside of school hours, and in the summertime," said Lugar. "Proper nutrition is the foundation for providing our youth with equal opportunities in education and giving them the boost they need to lead healthy lives. I look forward to working with the new Administration and my colleagues on strengthening this important piece of legislation."

During a hearing of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which Harkin chairs, Agriculture Secretary-designate Vilsack said nutrition and food assistance programs, including school meals, would be a key priority of his if confirmed.

The full text of the letter follows.

January 15, 2009

President-Elect Barack Obama
Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team
451 6th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

Dear President-Elect Obama:

We are writing to request that your fiscal year 2010 budget include new funding to provide for critical investments in the federal child nutrition programs, which must be reauthorized in 2009.

We look forward to working with your Administration on a successful reauthorization of these programs. The Child Nutrition programs have long enjoyed strong bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate. The most recent reauthorization of child nutrition programs, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (PL 108-265), passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives by unanimous consent.

The federal child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, are effective programs which play a critical role in preventing hunger and promoting healthy diets among children from birth until the end of secondary school.

Despite a demonstrated history of effectiveness, there are very clear and pressing needs that warrant a significant investment of federal resources in federal child nutrition programs. First, deteriorating economic conditions and rising food insecurity and child hunger make it imperative that additional steps be taken to increase access to these programs by eligible children. Second, the child nutrition programs must do a better job at responding to the problem of poor nutrition and childhood obesity among our nation's children, as well as the resulting chronic disease. In addition, a robust reauthorization of federal child nutrition programs is consistent with anticipated Congressional efforts at comprehensive reform of the health system in the United States.

While we look forward to working with your Administration on a comprehensive reauthorization package, increased funding is essential for the following key areas.

· Program Access and Participation: Consistent with your campaign pledge to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015, efforts to increase participation by needy children in child nutrition programs are critical, especially given poor economic conditions across the country. Such efforts should focus not only on federal school meal programs, but should also seek to bolster participation in after-school care, expand the provision of food during summer months and vacation times, and facilitate offering meals in early childhood settings, including both center-based and home-based child care.
· Nutritional Improvement: Numerous studies in recent years have clearly shown that the nutrition of our nation's children is a serious public health issue. Childhood overweight and obesity, type-II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several forms of cancer are associated with poor diet. Federal child nutrition programs contribute to improvements in the diets of children in many important respects, but as dietary risk to our children has changed, child nutrition programs must evolve to respond to this risk. Additional funding that is targeted to specific improvements in delivering healthy diets is vital if federal child nutrition programs are to successfully contribute to promoting healthful diets among our children.
· Program Integrity and Modernization: In 2004, Congress took several steps to improve integrity and to modernize program operations in child nutrition programs. However, there are several additional steps that should be taken to build upon previous efforts, including expanding cross program certification, offering alternatives to the paper application process for meals, reducing the administrative burden of applying for meals and administering meal programs, and building a more effective management information system infrastructure.

We appreciate the many competing demands that you will face as you seek to craft a responsible budget for fiscal year 2010. To improve the health and well-being of vulnerable children, we strongly urge you to make targeted investments in the child nutrition programs a top priority.

Sincerely,

Tom Harkin
Richard Lugar
Patrick Leahy
Orrin Hatch
Herb Kohl
Susan Collins
Bernie Sanders
Debbie Stabenow
Bob Casey
Sherrod Brown
Chuck Schumer
John Kerry
Russ Feingold
Amy Klobuchar
Richard Durbin
Jack Reed
Carl Levin
Evan Bayh
Ted Kennedy
Joe Lieberman
Barbara Boxer
Tim Johnson
Maria Cantwell
Blanche Lincoln
Daniel Akaka
Ron Wyden
Frank Lautenberg
Byron Dorgan
Sheldon Whitehouse
Max Baucus
Jeff Merkley
Chris Dodd
Bill Nelson
Mary Landrieu
Barbara Mikulski
Patty Murray
Daniel Inouye
Jeff Bingaman
Kay Hagan
Jeanne Shaheen

Cc: Peter Orszag - Director Designee, Office of Management and Budget
Tom Vilsack - Secretary Designee, Secretary of Agriculture


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