White House hires opponent of free school lunch

For those trying to read the political tea leaves, there’s a connection between a new hire at the White House and congressional action on public nutrition programs. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, hired as chief of staff Renee Hudson, who held the same job with Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita, said the Washington Post. An advocate of school choice, Rokita was sponsor of the 2016 child nutrition bill that would have slashed a program allowing free meals for all students at schools in poor neighborhoods.

In addition, Hudson is married to Rep. Richard Hudson, a North Carolina Republican and former chief of staff for Texas Rep. Michael Conaway, who is now chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Conaway, who says there “are a number of areas in need of improvement” in the food-stamp program, has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on “pros and cons of restricting” what can be purchased with food stamps.

A staunch conservative, Conaway told Politico last week that he was concerned that poor people used food stamps to buy soda and that “my intuition would be yes,” that the Trump administration would let states restrict what can be purchased through the largest U.S. anti-hunger program.

Rokita’s child-nutrition bill, HR 5003, which would have started a three-state test of block grants for school meals funding along with greatly restricting the Community Eligibility Provision, was approved by the House Education Committee on a party-line vote last May 18. It was regarded as a partisan attack on broadly popular programs and, as predicted, never became law. Congress did not reach agreement on reauthorization of child-nutrition programs last year, so it remains an open issue.

FERN and Highline partnered on a story last week, “Revenge of the Lunch Lady,” about the challenges of providing healthful meals with limited federal funding. The story, by Jane Black, focused on Huntington, W.Va., where the Community Eligibility Provision is one of the tools that local officials used to achieve economies of scale for their school-food program.