The House Committee on Education and Labor is expected this week to consider legislation known as the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act.
HR 8450 is a far-left wish list, seeking to expand welfare for all through universal free school meals and trying to use the school meals programs as a pretext to push far-left environmental, labor, and social justice policies.
There are many egregious provisions in the legislation, but here are two of the worst:
1) Welfare for all: The legislation is a blatant attempt to expand welfare for everyone, including the wealthy. In the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a controversial provision was included known as the Community Eligibility Provision.
If 40% of students within a school or school district are deemed to be from “low income” households, then all of the kids within the school or school district can receive free meals.
The Obama administration’s Department of Agriculture then improperly expanded that provision to allow a subset of schools within a school district to be grouped together to trigger free meals.
Therefore, it’s possible for a school with a significant low-income population to be grouped with a school with not a single low-income student, and both schools could provide free meals to every student within those schools, regardless of income.
For years, critics of the Community Eligibility Provision rightly claimed that it was just a scheme to create universal free school meals. Now, there’s no pretense otherwise.
The proposed legislation would reduce the already low 40% threshold number to just 25% and create a statewide Community Eligibility Provision.
The Community Eligibility Provision was purportedly a means to ensure that children who are eligible to receive free meals do in fact receive those meals. Supposedly, it wasn’t intended to be a scheme simply to provide free meals to everyone and create universal free school meals. But that’s what the provision already does to a significant extent, and this proposed bill would take a huge step in making universal free school meals a reality.
2) Far-left values: As mentioned, the school meals program is being used as a pretext to push unrelated left-wing ideological objectives, with children as pawns in this “game.”
Title VI of the bill has two provisions that are especially alarming. Section 601 is titled “values-aligned procurement.” Currently, under existing law, the Agriculture Department is supposed to encourage the purchase of locally grown and locally raised, unprocessed agricultural products. The bill would change that procurement policy to integrate “values” that would encourage the purchase of such products that are produced:
- in an environmentally sustainable manner.
- by a certified organic farm or ranch.
- by a farm with employees who, as permitted by law, are represented by a collective-bargaining agreement or a memorandum of understanding.
- by a farm participating in a worker justice certification program.
- by a farm participating in an independent animal-welfare certification program.
Clearly, “values” simply mean those consistent with left-wing environmental, labor, and/or social justice agendas, among other things. Another provision under Title VI of the bill, Section 604, would create a “pilot program” for schools to create 100% plant-based food options.
That pilot program would likely be the start of a permanent one. It’s a dietary experiment on kids. School meals are supposed to be based on the federal meals standards, which are required to be consistent with the federal Dietary Guidelines, but this provision would ignore that.
As an aside, Congress should move away from the prescriptive federal standards and instead allow the food provided at local schools to be determined by parents and local communities.
But that’s not what’s happening here with the plant-based diet experiment. Congress would be promoting a specific diet it favors for ideological objectives. This isn’t unlike the environmental extremists who have been trying to change the Dietary Guidelines so that nutrition is based on environmental concerns as much as the dietary needs of humans.
In general, this proposed legislation would turn a means-tested welfare program into one that doesn’t even bother to look at means (i.e., need). It uses a program designed to help children as a way to push unrelated ideological objectives.
The bill is also a slap in the face of American farmers and ranchers, and littered with policies that reflect a rejection of American agricultural practices, from how crops are grown to how animals are treated.
It’s yet another extremist effort to use federal policy to promote an anti-meat agenda, including by trying to indoctrinate kids into being anti-meat and to eat accordingly.
Congress does need to make changes to school meals. But it needs to make changes that help the children the programs are intended to serve, not the extremists who want to use school meals for their own ends.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal