WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled “Child Nutrition Reauthorization: Healthy Meals and Healthy Futures.” Live video of the hearing is available here.
Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order. I’m pleased to be here to discuss how we can create a healthier future for our children. All parents want to see their children grow up to lead healthy and successful lives.
One of the best ways to do that starts with the food on their plates. When those plates are empty, it’s a crisis for that child, for that family, and for our country. School meals were created because Congress recognized that far too many children were growing up malnourished. On the heels of World War II, that was a serious risk to our national security.
WIC was established in response to the devastating impacts of poor nutrition on moms and babies. Summer meals were created because children were going hungry in between school years. At each of these turning points, Congress saw a crisis and it spurred action. While a lot has changed since then, we need to take action once again today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the dual challenge of obesity and hunger. Obesity rates for children have been on the rise for years, again creating calls for action from today’s military leaders, pediatricians, and public health experts. After the last year without recess or after school sports, early evidence is showing that the pandemic has put more children at risk of obesity.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, who we will hear from today, children in low-income households and communities of color are more at risk of both obesity and COVID-19. At the same time, too many children in this country don’t have enough to eat. One in four children in the United States now face hunger because of the pandemic.
It’s clear that we are facing a child health crisis and a child hunger crisis. While the pandemic has created a new set of challenges, it has also illuminated opportunities for improvement. Whether they’re learning in person or virtually, we know our children can’t focus with an empty stomach. They need wholesome, nutritious breakfasts, lunches, and snacks to learn and grow.
During the pandemic, Congress gave schools new tools to reach more families in need, minimizing paperwork and focusing on creative ways to meet children where they are. Whether it’s delivering meals along bus routes, giving out a weeks-worth of meals at once, or providing a Pandemic EBT card to help families purchase food in the grocery store, new tools helped schools reach more children in need.
And while we will all be happy to move past this pandemic, we can apply these lessons and creative thinking to how we reach children during the summer, on weekends, and afterschool. As we transition back to in person learning, we have to use all of the tools in our toolbox to feed our kids and reduce burdens on schools, daycares, and parents.
It’s also important to make sure families have healthy food for their children before they reach school age. The successful WIC program helps pregnant moms and babies eat healthy food in the critical first stages of life. Key investments in technology and modernization like telehealth, data sharing and even something as simple as text messaging can help us feed more people in need.
It’s been over 10 years since Congress last made improvements to our critical child nutrition programs. With all the challenges we face, it’s time to take action on a bipartisan basis. Feeding kids is not and should not be a partisan issue. I look forward to passing a strong, bipartisan child nutrition bill that helps our kids get healthier – not hungrier.