Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Child Nutrition Reauthorization Hearing

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled “Perspectives on Child Nutrition Reauthorization.”

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:


Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing. I’m very proud of the work we have done together on this Committee to expand access to healthy foods for families. Our recent Farm Bill strengthened nutrition education and made nutritious food more affordable with incentives for fruits and vegetables and produce prescriptions.

The foundation of healthy families and a healthy future really starts with our children. As this Committee begins the reauthorization process, it is important to remember how critical child nutrition is to the future of our nation.

Whether it is ensuring a mother is getting enough calcium to build healthy bones for her baby, or making sure that a 10-year-old isn’t fighting hunger pains in math class – child nutrition is about building a stronger future for our country.

It’s also important to our national security. The National School Lunch Program was created in the 1940’s because General Lewis Hershey came before Congress to explain that recruits were being rejected due to malnutrition.

Today, over 750 retired generals and other military leaders are sounding alarm bells again – this time because young adults are too overweight to serve. With 14% of children as young as two showing signs of obesity, we have to address this issue early and everywhere our children are forming healthy habits.

In the past decade, we’ve certainly made progress to help improve healthy eating in cafeterias, day care, and while kids are out of school. In my home state of Michigan, nearly 1,600 schools in cities from Dexter to Detroit are using Farm to School initiatives to grow their own salad greens, tomatoes, and peppers.

Michigan is leading the way in using Summer EBT to ensure students don’t go hungry during the summer months when school is out. The expansion of this program in Flint has been critical to helping families mitigate the impact of lead.

Additionally, Michigan was one of the first states to roll out the Community Eligibility Provision – an improvement that expands access to healthy meals for kids, while reducing paperwork for schools and families. There are examples like these happening throughout the country, in communities in every state represented on this committee.

Even though we’ve seen great progress, it is vital that we keep moving forward – not backward.

Obesity rates for adolescent children continue to rise. Yet at the same time, there are over 12 million children in this country who do not have enough to eat. This is a crisis of both child health and child hunger. We need to address this crisis by improving access to nutritious food, so our kids get healthier – not hungrier.

Our children need healthy lunch options – and they also need wholesome breakfasts and after-school snacks. And we know hunger doesn’t take a break when school is out for the summer.

Whether it’s a summer meals program at the YMCA to help prevent the summer learning slide, or a “Veggie Van” driving out to a rural community to ensure children have healthy meals in July – we need to do better.

We also know many moms and babies rely on WIC to provide healthy food at home during those critical first stages of life. As important developmental milestones continue throughout childhood, we should make sure young children aren’t falling through the cracks either.

Our child nutrition programs help set our children up for success. We can and should look for ways to streamline paperwork and make it easier for providers to focus on serving healthy meals to kids. However, we can and should do that without backtracking on the progress we have made on healthy food and critical access.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you – and the members of this Committee – to strengthen our child nutrition programs. You and I agree that the health and well-being of our children is not a partisan issue. We proved that by passing a bipartisan bill unanimously out of this Committee just a few years ago. This time, I look forward to getting it over the finish line.