Signing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

Signing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act


The President:
Good morning, everybody. Audience:
Good morning. The President:
Well, I want to
thank all the students and faculty and staff here at
Tubman Elementary for hosting us today at your beautiful school. And we want to thank Principal
Harry Hughes for doing outstanding work here. Thank you — give them
all a big round of applause. (applause) We are thrilled to be
here with all of you as I sign the Healthy,
Hungry-Free Kids Act — a bill that’s vitally important to the
health and welfare of our kids and to our country. But before I do this, I just
want to acknowledge a few of the folks who are here, as well as
a few who are not here but who played a hugely
important role in getting this legislation passed. On the stage we have
Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. (applause) Two outstanding
senators, Blanche Lincoln and Tom Harkin, who worked
so hard to get this done. (applause) Members of the House of Representatives Miller, DeLauro and Platts who all
worked so hard to make this happen. (applause) We’re grateful to you. And three of my outstanding
members of my Cabinet who worked tirelessly on this issue,
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack — it happens to
be his birthday today. Happy birthday. (applause) Secretary Arne Duncan, our
great Secretary of Education. (applause) And Secretary
Kathleen Sebelius of Health and
Human Services. (applause) They couldn’t be here today
but they played a huge role in making this happen
— Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate;
Senator Mike McConnell,[sic] the ranking Republican who
helped facilitate the smooth passage of this bill; Senator
Chambliss, who was the lead Republican; Representatives Hoyer,Clyburn and McCarthy all played important roles, and so
we’re very grateful to them. Give them a big
round of applause. (applause) It is worth
noting that this bill passed with bipartisan support in
both houses of Congress. That hasn’t happened as often
as we’d like over the last couple of years, but I think
it says something about our politics. It reminds us that no matter
what people may hear about how divided things are in
Washington, we can still come together and agree on issues
that matter for our children’s future and for our
future as a nation. And that’s really
what today is all about. At a very basic level,
this act is about doing what’s right for our children. Right now, across the country,
too many kids don’t have access to school meals. And often, the food that’s
being offered isn’t as healthy or as nutritious
as it should be. That’s part of the reason why
one in three children in America today are either
overweight or obese. And we’re seeing this
problem in every part of the country in kids from all
different backgrounds and all walks of life. As a result, doctors are now
starting to see conditions like high blood pressure, high
cholesterol and Type II diabetes in children — these are things
that they only used to see in adults. And this bill is about
reversing that trend and giving our kids the healthy
futures that they deserve. And this bill is also
about doing what’s right for our country, because we feel
the strains that treating obesity-related health
conditions puts on our economy. We’ve seen the connection
between what our kids eat and how well they perform in school. And we know that the countries
that succeed in the 21st century will be the ones that
have the best-prepared, best-educated workforce around. So we need to make sure
our kids have the energy and the capacity to go toe to toe
with any of their peers, anywhere in the world. And we need to make
sure that they’re all reaching their potential. That’s precisely what this
bill — the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act — will accomplish. This legislation will help
115,000 children gain access to school meal programs. And wherever we can, we’re
doing away with bureaucracy and red tape, so that families don’t
have to fill out mountains of paperwork to get their kids
the nutrition they need. We’re improving the
quality of those meals by reimbursing schools an
additional six cents per lunch to help them provide with
healthier options — the first real increase, by the
way, in over 30 years. Because when our kids walk
into the lunchroom, we want to be sure that they’re getting
balanced, nutritious meals that they need to succeed
in the classroom. We’re empowering parents
by making information more available about the quality of
school meals — helping families understand what their kids
are eating during the day. And to support our
schools’ efforts to serve fresh fruits and vegetables,
we’re connecting them with local farmers. We’re also improving food
safety in schools, and boosting the quality of commodities like
cheese that schools get from the Department of Agriculture
and use in their lunch and breakfast programs. It’s also important to
note that while this bill is fully paid for, it won’t add a
dime to the deficit, some of the funding comes from rolling back
a temporary increase in food stamp benefits — or SNAP as
it’s now called — starting in the fall of 2013. I know a number of members of
Congress have expressed concerns about this offset being included
in the bill, and I’m committed to working with them to restore
these funds in the future. We know that every day
across this country, parents are working as hard as they can to
make healthy choices for their kids. Schools are doing everything
possible to provide the nutritious food
they need to thrive. Communities are coming
together to help our young people lead healthier lives
right from the beginning. And it’s time that we made
that work a little bit easier. So these folks
are fulfilling their responsibilities to our kids. This legislation helps
ensure that we fulfill our responsibilities as well. Shortly after signing the
first law establishing school lunches, Harry Truman said that
“Nothing is more important in our national life than the
welfare of our children, and proper nourishment comes first
in attaining this welfare.” So today, I’m very proud
to sign this bill that continues that legacy. Not only am I very proud of
the bill, but had I not been able to get this passed, I
would be sleeping on the couch. (laughter and applause) So now I am — now I am very proud to introduce somebody
who’s done so much to shine a light on these critical issues
related to childhood nutrition and obesity and exercise:
America’s First Lady, my First Lady, Michelle Obama. (applause) The First Lady:
Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you all, thanks
so much, and good morning. Audience:
Good morning. The First Lady:
And thank
you, Mr. President — (laughter) — for that very
kind introduction. And all kidding aside, my
husband worked very hard to make sure that this bill was a
priority in this session. And I am grateful to you. The President:
Because I would have been sleeping on the couch. (laughter) The First Lady:
But I am thrilled to be here — we won’t go into that. (laughter) Let’s just say it got done,
so we don’t have to go down that road. (laughter) But I am thrilled to
be here with all of you today as my husband
signs the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law. Now, usually, we hold these bill signings in the White House. But we felt it was important
to do this one right here at Tubman Elementary because we
wanted to share this moment with our partners — with the
students, the parents, the teachers, the community leaders,
like all of you here, who have been so instrumental. Our White House chefs have
worked closely with educators at this school, and they’ve seen
your commitment to serving high-quality school meals
to all of your students. I’ve worked side by side with
kids from this school, as well as from
Bancroft Elementary School, to harvest our
White House garden. We couldn’t have done it
without all our students helping us. And I saw how hard they
worked, and I also saw how brave they were to try vegetables that
many of them never even heard of, so — (laughter) — and I
also understand that there are students from Murch Elementary
School who are here today as well, and we all had just a
great time last spring working up a sweat and exercising
and playing on the South Lawn of the White House. So with everything that
all of you are doing to give these children a healthy start
in life, you are fulfilling the mission of this legislation
every single day. That’s why we’re here. So I want to thank you all,
all of our partners, for what you’ve done, not just in hosting
us here today but in making sure that we’re doing the
right thing by our kids. I also want to echo my
husband’s thanks to leaders and members of Congress, many of
whom are on the stage, many of whom are not and are down here,
and you all have done just a tremendous thing in
making this day possible. As he said, this was truly
a bipartisan effort, with passionate supporters from both
parties putting in late nights and long weekends, working
around the clock to make sure that this bill got passed,
because while we may sometimes have our differences, we can all
agree that in the United States of America, no child
should go to school hungry. We can all agree —
(applause) — we can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on
Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need
to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because in the
end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Nothing. And our hopes for their future
should drive every single decision that we make. These are the basic values
that we all share, regardless of race, party, religion. This is what we share. These are the values
that this bill embodies. And that’s why we’ve seen such
a groundswell of support for these efforts — not just from
members of Congress here in Washington, but from folks in
every corner of the country. It’s been beautiful to see. From educators working to
provide healthier school meals, because they know the
connection between proper nutrition and
academic performance. From doctors and nurses
who know that unhealthy kids grow into unhealthy adults —
at risk for obesity-related diseases like diabetes,
heart disease, cancer. From business and labor
leaders who know that we spend nearly $150 billion a year to
treat these diseases and who worry about the
impact on our economy. From advocates and faith
leaders who know that school meals are vital for combating
hunger, feeding more than 31 million children a day. And from military leaders
who tell us that when more than one in four young people are
unqualified for military service because of their weight, they
tell us that childhood obesity isn’t just a public health
issue; they tell us that it is not just an economic
threat — it is a national security
threat as well. Now, these folks come at
this issue from all different angles. But they’ve come together to
support this bill because they know it’s the right
thing to do for our kids. And they know that in the long
run, it won’t just save money, but it’s going to save lives. And let’s be clear: These
folks don’t just support this bill as leaders
and as professionals, but as parents as well. And we know that ensuring that
kids eat right and stay active is ultimately the
responsibility of parents more than anyone else. And everywhere I go,
fortunately, I meet parents who are working very hard to
make sure that their kids are healthy. They’re doing things like
cutting down on desserts and trying to increase
fruits and vegetables. They’re trying to teach their
kids the kind of healthy habits that will stay with
them for a lifetime. But when our kids spend so
much of their time each day in school, and when many children
get up to half their daily calories from school meals, it’s
clear that we as a nation have a responsibility to meet as well. We can’t just leave
it up to the parents. I think that parents have
a right to expect that their efforts at home won’t be undone
each day in the school cafeteria or in the vending
machine in the hallway. I think that our parents have
a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh,
healthy food that meets high nutritional standards. And particularly in these
tough economic times, when so many families are struggling,
when school meals sometimes are the main source of nourishment
for so many kids, we have an obligation to make sure that
those meals are as nutritious as possible. But by improving the
quality of school meals — and making sure that more children
have access to them — that is precisely what the Healthy,
Hunger-Free Kids Act is going to do. Because while it might seem
counterintuitive, child hunger and child obesity are really
just two sides of the same coin. Both rob our children of the
energy, the strength and the stamina they need to succeed
in school and in life. And that, in turn, robs our
country of so much of their promise. Both, though, can be
solved when we come together to provide our children with the
nutritious food that they need and deserve. That’s why for well over half
a century, we’ve made child nutrition a national priority. The bill we’re signing
into law today actually has its roots in the National School
Lunch program signed into law by President Truman
after World War II. And it also has roots in the
Child Nutrition Act that was passed just two decades
after that in 1966. Now, the idea for that act
came from a priest named Revered C.B. Woodrich, who worked with
children in Denver, Colorado. Many of these kids were
going hungry because they couldn’t afford to buy lunch. Reverend Woodrich thought
that was unconscionable, and he decided to do
something about it. So he somehow managed to talk
his way into a meeting with President Johnson. He arrived at the Oval Office
without any kind of report or presentation or speech. Instead, he simply brought an
enormous album filled with the photos of children in need,
which he promptly spread across the President’s desk. The Reverend, he wanted —
later explained that the size of the photo album was deliberate,
because he wanted to be sure that it would be big enough to
cover up everything else on the President’s desk. And that’s hard to do.
It’s a big desk. (laughter) It is to this day a moving reminder that the most important job of any
President is to ensure the well-being of our nation’s
children, because we know that the success of our nation
tomorrow depends on the choices we make for our kids today. It depends on whether they can
fulfill every last bit of their potential, and we, in turn, can
benefit from every last bit of their promise. That is our obligation,
not just as parents who love our kids but as citizens
who love this country. That’s the mission of this
legislation — to give all of our children the bright
futures that they deserve. And that is why I am
so proud to be here. I am so proud to have worked
on this bill with all of you, and now I am pleased to stop
talking and turn this over to my husband so that he can get
to work signing that bill. The President:
Let’s go sign this bill. The First Lady:
Let’s go do it. (applause) (The bill is signed.) (applause)

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