(Aug. 8, 12:51 p.m.) Representing the first expansion of the school fruit and vegetable snack program — and years of lobbying work by produce industry leaders — the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Aug. 6 released $49 million for the first year of the program that allows schools in all states to receive money to serve children fruits and vegetables.

The money comes through the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, which had been limited to14 states, 25 schools and three Indian tribe schools.

Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said the move is a huge step and said funding increases in successive years should allow states to select more schools to participate in the program.

“This is the most effective thing we can do now to get this program expanded nationally and see funding increase in every single year so it reaches more and more kids,” she said. “The public health benefit is that it’s reaching 1 million kids this year and 3 million two years from now. That’s a significant public health reach when the program is reaching that many children.”

In addition to the $49 million previously appropriated, the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program provides $65 million for 2009-10, $101 million for 2010-11 and $150 million for 2011-12.

The program focuses on the neediest students. Future funds will be indexed for inflation and schools may apply for funding to operate the program on an annual basis, according to the USDA.