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Congress passes sweeping child nutrition bill

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The House passes a $4.5 billion child nutrition bill backed by the first lady
  • The measure gives the federal government more power to set school nutrition standards
  • Some liberals object to funding the program in part through food stamp cuts

Washington (CNN) -- The House of Representatives passed a sweeping child nutrition bill Thursday designed to promote better eating habits in part by giving the federal government more authority to set standards for food sold in vending machines and other venues on school grounds.

Among other things, the $4.5 billion measure provides more money to poor areas to subsidize free meals and requires schools to abide by health guidelines drafted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To help offset the higher cost of including more fruits and vegetables, the bill increases the reimbursement rate for school lunches.

The bill, which passed 264-157 largely along party lines, has already been approved by the Senate and is a top priority for first lady Michelle Obama. It now advances to the president's desk to be signed into law.

Some Democrats had objected to the fact that the bill is funded in part by stripping $2.2 billion from the federal food stamp program. Congress also voted over the summer to take money from the program to fund legislation sending money to cash-strapped states to avoid teacher layoffs.

The cuts largely negate a spending increase provided to the food stamp program by the 2009 economic stimulus plan. Administration officials reportedly have promised anxious liberals that they will work to find ways to restore the higher funding levels.

The first lady has championed the child nutrition bill as part of her "Let's Move" initiative to combat child obesity in the United States.