The Senate will begin consideration of a package of three bills: Commerce-Justice-Science (S. 2437), Transportation-HUD (S. 2438) and Agriculture (S. 2389) -- which is the bill that funds the WIC program. The bill includes language that would mandate potatoes into the WIC food packages until the next IOM food package review. This is considered, by some, a compromise approach to including white potatoes, yet a better Congressional response might have been to call for an IOM study on their possible inclusion or wait until the next IOM review of the WIC food packages, before mandating them. The Senate plans to debate the three bills this week and next week.
On June 11, 2014 the House began debate on H.R. 4800: Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. This bill includes a more onerous provision mandating white potatoes into the WIC food packages and a provision that grants waivers to schools who cannot meet nutrition standards set forth by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN), Congressman George Miller (D-CA), and others spoke out against mandating white potatoes in the WIC food packages and interfering with the science of the child nutrition programs, noting the negative nutritional effects it would have on families. While there were many hours of debate, a vote on the bill is still pending as the House majority focuses attention on moving less controversial bills while they sort our new Leadership in the Republican caucus.
Meanwhile, the White House last week released a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the FY2015 House Agriculture appropriations bill (HR 4800) because it “injects political decision-making into science-based nutrition standards, and includes objectionable language riders."
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry chaired by Senator Stabenow (D-MI) held an overview hearing of the Child Nutrition Programs on June 12, 2014. This is the first of what will likely be several hearings as the Senate and House move towards reauthorization consideration of the Child Nutrition Program in 2015.
General Richard Hawley (Retired US Air Force, currently with Mission: Readiness), Dr. Stephen Cook (University of Rochester Medical Center), Otha Thornton (President of National Parent Teacher Association), and Yolanda Stanislaus (Principal- Francis Scott Key Middle School, MD) provided testimony on the importance of the federal child nutrition programs, including WIC, school lunch, and school breakfast.
Senator Casey (D-PA) asked Dr. Cook how the WIC program has improved nutrition. He responded saying that WIC offers strategies to help prevent overweight and obesity and is a great opportunity for families. From his experience in New York, he has seen the value of the new, more culturally appropriate food offerings. He also suggested that WIC staff come to pediatric offices with information about WIC for families. The Senators and witnesses gave additional suggestions for moving forward to improve child nutrition, including the need for many multi-faceted approaches.