The agricultural appropriations bill now pending in the Senate would provide nearly $150 million in child nutrition initiatives aimed at fighting hunger and promoting health among children in Arkansas and around the country, Sen. Blanche Lincoln said.

“These investments are a down payment on a robust reauthorization of the Child Nutrition and WIC programs that serve tens of millions of children in Arkansas and across the country with healthy, nutritious meals,” said Lincoln, the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“I am proud my first legislative effort as chairman of the Agriculture Committee would help to improve the health of our children and prevent needy children from going hungry. The Committee will work with USDA and the administration on a reauthorization that improves access to healthy meals, reduces hunger, and improves school meals and the health of infants, school children, and pregnant and nursing mothers.”

Lincoln said the package of child nutrition investments was crafted jointly with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Specifically, the fiscal year 2010 Agriculture Appropriations Conference Report includes temporary extensions of expiring provisions of the Child Nutrition Act, resulting in a cost savings of $150 million. These savings would be reinvested to meet critical nutrition needs across the country to ensure more children have year-round access to healthy and nutritious meals at school, in child care, and during the summer.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the final agriculture appropriations bill Wednesday by a bipartisan vote of 263-162. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation later.

“This is exactly the type of support communities and states need to continue addressing hunger but also start to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, Arkansas Surgeon General. “Senator Lincoln is uniquely positioned to help lead the nation in making the food we eat more healthy and nutritious.”

The investments made in this legislation would fill in the gaps during the summer months when children do not have access to school meals, assist Arkansas and other states in their efforts to certify school children for meal programs, support breastfeeding, help schools upgrade their facilities to better support healthy school meals, and other key functions.

The specific provisions include:

• $85 million to improve children’s access to meals during the summer.

• $25 million to help schools purchase cafeteria equipment to provide healthy school meals.

• $25 million to help states to automatically enroll children in the School Lunch Program.

• $8 million in grants to states to improve health and nutrition in child care settings.

• $5 million in performance bonuses to state WIC agencies that increase rates of breastfeeding.

“When so many families in Arkansas and around the country are struggling with job losses and a poor economy, ending childhood hunger and promoting nutrition take on even more importance,” Lincoln said. “In my role as Chairman, I will continue to work toward my goal of a country where no child goes hungry and where nutritious food is available to all children.”