As the U.S. Senate begins work on child nutrition reauthorization legislation, one key lawmaker has claimed to have found a big chunk of new funding.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., chairman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, said her Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 provides $4.5 billion in new child nutrition program funding over 10 years.

Lincoln’s plan would include a performance-based 6 cents per meal increase the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches. Though the increase is less than the 35 cents per meal increase nutrition advocates have lobbied for, any increase would mean more fruit and vegetable purchases for school lunches.

The bill also would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to establish national nutrition standards for all foods sold in the school throughout the day. In addition, the legislation promises to establish nutrition requirements for child care providers and provide mandatory funding for schools to establish school garden and to help schools source local foods into school cafeterias.

Committee work on the bill is expected to start March 24, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. She said the House has not yet taken up work on their version of the bill — which funds school breakfast and lunch programs — because of their focus on health care reform legislation.

Lincoln said in a news release that her bill offers the biggest funding increase in a child nutrition reauthorization bill ever, while providing offsets to pay for it. The highest previous increase, she said, was $500 million over ten years.

“From stronger local wellness policies, to improved nutrition requirements for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, to funding to bring healthy, local foods into schools, this bill is an incredible step in the right direction toward teaching our children the healthy habits they need to live longer, more productive lives,” she said in the release.

The federal child nutrition programs include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Supplemental Program for Women Infants, and Children and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

DiSogra said Lincoln’s bill doesn’t provide as much as President Obama proposed in his budget earlier this year, which suggested $10 billion in new funding over 10 years. However, Obama’s budget sought to pay for the boost in funds in part by reducing program crop subsidies and that proposal has failed to gain any traction.

A big priority for nutrition advocates is increasing the USDA reimbursement rate for school meals. Currently, the USDA provides $2.68 for students who qualify for free lunches. The Washington, D.C.-based School Nutrition Association has suggested — and United Fresh supports — a 35-cent increase in the reimbursement. DiSogra, said the increase should be tied to schools that would provide more fruits and vegetables and whole grains in school meals.

“I know that for schools to really improve the healthfulness of their school meals and to serve more fruits and vegetables like the Institute of Medicine has recommended, they need a higher reimbursement rate,” she said. “Getting a higher reimbursement rate is critical to everything that is important to United.”

DiSogra said the child nutrition legislation will likely ask the USDA to regulate all food sold in schools that compete with the school-sponsored meals — such as vending machine snacks and soda.