By MARY CLARE JALONICK
WASHINGTON (AP) – First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthier school lunches has stalled in Congress after anti-hunger groups and more than 100 Democrats protested the use of food stamp dollars to pay for it.
Passage of the child nutrition bill, which would improve lunches in schools and expand feeding programs for low-income students, has been a priority for Democrats and hunger groups for years. But the groups and many members of the House switched sides when leaders proposed a vote on a Senate-passed version of the legislation that uses future funding for food stamp programs to pay for part of the $4.5 billion cost.
One hundred and six Democrats wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in August calling the move egregious, saying it was not a vote they would take lightly. Labor unions, anti-poverty groups and even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also urged the speaker to reconsider using the food stamp money.
“It’s just plain wrong,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a longtime advocate for childhood nutrition programs. “The way you are going to pay for a child nutrition bill is by dipping into people’s food stamps? Give me a break.”
The first lady has lobbied aggressively for the legislation as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity. A spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama said Wednesday that she had “made extensive outreach” to Pelosi and other members of House leadership over the past several weeks.
To no avail. Democrats declined to take up the bill before the November elections, citing many of their members’ concerns about the food stamp dollars. Many Republicans opposed the bill as well, saying it was too expensive.