January 22, 2010 / 11:21 PM / 9 years ago

Antihunger groups ask $1 billion a year for U.S. child meals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. child nutrition programs need at least $1 billion a year in new funding as a step toward elimination of childhood hunger by 2015, an anti-hunger coalition said on Friday.

Congress delayed a renewal of the nutrition programs until this year because it could not find the additional money last year. The programs, centered around school lunch programs, were given $24 billion this fiscal year.

In a letter to congressional leaders, the antihunger coalition pointed to President Barack Obama’s proposal a year ago for a $1 billion increase for child nutrition. Obama has a goal of ending child hunger by 2015.

“Given the recent (Agriculture Department) report showing that one in every four children live in households struggling against hunger, the child nutrition programs will need at least that amount of funding, if not a significantly higher investment, to respond to the current crisis,” they wrote.

Signing the letter were 53 farm, education, health, religious and food groups.

Backers say more money is needed because of the surge in food prices in 2007 and 2008, higher enrollment due to the recession and the cost of putting fresher and healthier foods into school meals.

“This is enough of a priority that it requires additional resources to expand access to the program so that every youngster that qualifies gets the benefits of the program,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to USDA’s radio news service.

Vilsack said Congress would be asked to set higher standards for snacks and beverages sold in school vending machines.

One-third of eligible children do not take part in school meal programs, according to a USDA spokesman last fall. USDA rules say children are automatically eligible for free meals if their families qualify for food stamps or welfare.

Some 31 million children ate hot meals daily under the school lunch program in fiscal 2009. WIC enrollment stood at 9.3 million at latest count.

Reporting by Charles Abbott

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