WASHINGTON President Barack Obama proposed a $1 billion a year increase in funding on Thursday for U.S. child nutrition programs including school lunches.
The increase would go to "improving program access, enhancing the nutritional quality of school meals, expanding nutrition research and evaluation and improving program oversight," said the White House.
Child nutrition programs are due for renewal by Congress this year. They cost roughly $15 billion a year. Obama's proposal would add $9.85 billion to the programs through fiscal 2019.
An estimated 32 million children eat lunch each day through the school lunch program this school year and about 8 million participate in the school breakfast program.
Obama has a goal of eliminating childhood hunger by 2015.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that providing school children with fresh fruits and vegetables and more nutritious meals would be a priority.
Antihunger groups have called for steps like making it easier for poor children to qualify automatically for free school meals. They also back steps like expanding the school breakfast and summer food programs to reach more children, and to expanding the number of children who qualify for free meals.
Besides school lunch, school breakfast and school milk, the child nutrition program includes summer food and the child and adult day care food programs. The Women, Infants and Children program, costing about $6.86 billion this year, also is lumped into the child nutrition category.
(Reporting by Charles Abbott; editing by Jim Marshall)