AUGUST 15TH, 2007 | Harkin for Senate
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · August 15, 2007
Sen. Tom Harkin said last week that he would like to increase by more than tenfold federal spending that provides fruit and vegetable snacks to elementary pupils.
Currently, the federal Farm Bill provides $23 million a year in a pilot program to provide healthy snacks to 100 schools in four states. Harkin, D-Iowa, wants to bump up the spending to $250 million for 450 schools in 14 states.
Harkin made his comments Aug. 8 during a roundtable discussion on hunger at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
When the Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program started in 2002, it was with the theory that it would help children learn to eat healthier. Harkin said there were some teachers who felt it would create messes or prompt children to start throwing food in the classroom.
“We tried it with 100 schools and not one left,he said. Many are begging to stay.”
The four states that took part in the pilot program California, Michigan, New Jersey and New York are now asking to expand the program.
Harkin said he knows the increase is big, but believes it will help promote “better diet and nutrition.”
“In 10 years, my goal is to have it in every elementary school,” he said.
Asked if the idea included tax breaks for farmers donating fruits and vegetables to local schools, Harkin said no.
“Schools don’t have the wherewithal to clean, cut and dice those foods, he said. And I think it is hard for farmers to bring produce to local schools.”
The roundtable included representatives from food banks, public policy groups and social services. One person asked if it would be possible to get a processing center involved. Harkin said he had not thought of that, but liked the idea.
He said he would like to see the Farm Bill include enticements that would provide farmers markets to start accepting food stamps now known as Electronic Benefit Transfer cards in an effort to encourage EBT users to buy healthier fare. On top of that, he is considering offering some sort of a bonus or discount to EBT users who buy fruits and vegetables, which are more expensive than the high-starch, high-fat foods EBT users tend to buy.
Harkin also said he is trying to come up with a better title for the Farm Bill so the general population would have a better idea of what it provides. Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project suggested “Food and Energy Security Act.”
Kathy Taylor of the Scott County Department of Human Services said that the local Iowa Extension Office comes monthly to set up a booth in the DHS, providing menus, recipes and even samples of healthy foods to try to encourage people to eat better. Harkin said he wanted to visit one of those days to get a better idea of how it works.
“Most people don’t have the time to cook, he said. Its frustrating most people want to eat better, but we have to recognize reality.
In Cedar County, 835 recipients in 345 households received Food Stamps (Food Assistance) in June. Statewide, $22.4 million went to provide food stamps to 240,934 people in 109,498 households.
More than $244 million is put into the Iowa economy through food stamp usage.
Households with children receive 80 percent of food stamp benefits.
Of the estimated 132,000 “food-insecure” households in Iowa, about 62 percent receive food stamp assistance.
Food stamps average about $1 per person per meal.
Source: Iowa Fiscal Partnership
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