Hoeven To USDA Secretary: Support Sensible School Lunch Act

Senator Calls for Permanent Flexibility in School Nutrition Programs

WASHINGTON – At a hearing this week of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator John Hoeven pressed U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to support the Sensible School Lunch Act, legislation he introduced to provide schools with permanent flexibility to meet students’ nutritional needs.

“We’d like to work with you to ensure that our school lunch programs are working for our schools and our students,” Hoeven told Vilsack. “Senator Pryor and I introduced the Sensible School Lunch Act to provide permanent flexibility in the school lunch program to best meet all students’ nutrition needs. We’re putting it forward with the idea of working with USDA to provide the best possible nutrition programs for our students, and we’re asking for your support.”

Secretary Vilsack agreed to work with the Senators to ensure that school nutrition programs work for students and schools.

The Sensible School Lunch Act ensures that the USDA permanently modifies strict rules for serving grains, starches and proteins in school meals. Hoeven has been working to provide greater flexibility for schools following the USDA’s implementation of new school meal standards, effective at the start of the 2012-2013 school year, that attempted to curb obesity by strictly limiting calories, protein and grains for all students without any flexibility to meet the needs of athletes or others whose dietary needs do not fit the guidelines. Complying with the rule exceeded federal funding by at least a projected $75 million a year, according to the USDA, placing greater strain on school budgets.

The lack of flexibility in the program posed problems for students with special nutritional needs. After hearing from students and school nutritionist, Hoeven and a bipartisan group of senators wrote to the USDA requesting greater flexibility for the program to ensure that students’ nutritional needs are met. In response to the senators’ request, the USDA in December 2012 lifted its strict limit on grains and starches as well as protein to give schools more flexibility on a temporary basis. The upper cap on total calories remains in place.

The Sensible School Lunch Act makes permanent more flexible portions of proteins and grains in the federal school meals program, while leaving in place the rest of the regulation, including the total calorie cap and its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy selections.

The bipartisan legislation is cosponsored by 13 senators and is endorsed by the School Nutrition Association, a national organization representing more than 55,000 school nutritionists.