(Dec. 16) Nutrition advocates are already angling for $1 billion in additional federal money for nutrition programs in the upcoming U.S. budget. It won’t be easy, if the past is any indication.

A Nov. 26 letter from the Child Nutrition Forum to congressional budget committee members stressed the importance national nutrition goals. Child Nutrition Forum is a coalition of more than 40 organizations, including the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va.

The letter urges the House and Senate budget committees to reserve new federal funds for key improvements in child nutrition reauthorization for 2003.

Child nutrition programs include the school lunch, school breakfast, childcare food, summer food and Women, Infants and Children programs.

The letter emphasizes the need for broader eligibility for nutrition at preschool, after-school and summer programs. These programs result in lower infant mortality rates and higher learning rates, advocates say.

The letter also mentioned the goals of promoting healthy eating habits and preventing childhood obesity and other nutrition-related diseases.

CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC

Ellen Teller, lobbyist for Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center, said she was cautiously optimistic about the budget process.

The White House is preparing its budget for next year, but she said no numbers have been released concerning those proposals.

Tracy Fox, president of Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants LLC, Bethesda, Md., and adviser to the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation, said although the budget outlook is tight there may be an opening for nutrition programs.

“I still think the obesity epidemic will continue to an effective argument for changes in these programs,” Fox said.

She said she hopes the administration’s budget features more money for nutrition education and some language that would increase fruit and vegetable purchases.

Agriculture undersecretary Eric Bost has been aggressive in lobbying for funds for child nutrition programs, Teller said.

“Our goal is to elevate child nutrition as a national priority,” she said.

The forum’s letter to budget committee members noted the significance of the 1946 National School Lunch Act. In the words of the legislation’s preamble, the act was a “measure of national security to safeguard the health and well being of the nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities.”

Just in that sentence, Teller noted that national defense, agriculture and the well being of children were emphasized. Those points are stressed in lobbying efforts, she said.

NOT EASY

With the tight budget scenario, she said it wouldn’t be easy getting new money. But even in the 1990s, when federal budgets were flush with surplus, Teller said child nutrition programs never had an easy time.

“In 1998 we had to find offsets from within our program and 1996 we had incredible cuts because of welfare reform,” she said.

On the other hand, Teller said child nutrition programs are extremely popular and they play into other national priorities, including work force issues.

“The after-school feeding program and the out-of-school feeding program have received increased support in Congress,” she said.

Teller said the key battles for funding in the weeks and months ahead will take place in the House and Senate budget committees.

The new Senate chairman of the budget committee is Don Nickles, R-Okla.

“We will have our challenges. Mr. Nickles has some other priorities,” Teller said.

The official Senate Web site for Nickles revealed he might be pinching pennies upon assuming the chairman role.

“I’m looking forward to working with President Bush and senators on both sides of the aisle to reinstate a realistic, fiscally-responsible budget process that will promote economic growth, homeland security and national security,” he said in one release.