From Green Right Now Reports

The Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 on Thursday afternoon, reaching unanimous bipartisan consent on the measure to re-fund the existing child nutrition program before it expires September 30.

The bill would raise the federal money allotted for school lunches by 6 cents per lunch, make it easier for schools to use local farm-fresh food and push junk food out of the schools. It is supported by sustainability and nutrition advocates, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post to promote the bill.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) claimed credit for pushing the bill through the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which she chairs.

“Today the Senate has seized a tremendous opportunity to do what’s right for our children and our families,” Lincoln said. “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will finally put us on a path toward improving the health of the next generation of Americans, providing common-sense solutions to tackling childhood hunger and obesity. This is a resounding victory for our nation’s children and an investment that will last a lifetime.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition lauded the passage of the bill because it encourages better nutrition and provides for schools to use more local food. But it noted that the $4.5 billion Senate bill is “less generous than the $10 billion measure originally suggested by the White House” and less than the $8 billion House version of the legislation. The Senate bill, though, is the only version that would paid for itself with offsetting budget cuts or tax increases.

Because it takes some of that offset from the food stamp program (SNAP), some poverty groups are angry about how the  Senate measure will be funded.

“The Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill passed by the Senate this afternoon will increase hunger in America by cutting SNAP (food stamp) benefits. The bill, if enacted, will do far more harm than good,” argued the Food Research and Action Center in a statement, vowing to fight the measure cutting SNAP payments to “America’s 40 million neediest people”.

Lincoln, however, touted the fiscal conservatism of the legislation. “In this budget environment, with record deficits, we have been able to produce a bill that is fully paid for and will not add a dime to the deficit,” she said. “It’s the fiscally responsible and right thing to do for our children. At a time when families are scrimping and saving to make their own budgets work, I can’t think of a better message to send than to pass a fully paid for bill that will help their children live longer, healthier, more productive lives.”

Nutrition advocates were generally pleased with the substance of the bill.

“The Senate bill changes the school food landscape in ways that are all positive,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Put simply, it will get junk food out of, and put more healthy food into, America’s schools. It preserves the free and reduced-cost meals that many families depend on in an economic downturn. And it supports farmers by improving farm-to-school programs. Chairman Blanche Lincoln and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss deserve credit for forging a bipartisan agreement on the bill and for fighting to secure a vote despite a crowded Senate schedule.”