Wed, May 03, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Trump takes aim at lunch guidelines, girls’ education

NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday took aim at two signature programs of former US first lady Michelle Obama, rolling back her efforts to promote healthy school lunches and potentially rebranding her program to educate adolescent girls abroad.

US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that school meals would no longer have to meet some requirements connected with Obama’s initiative to combat childhood obesity by overhauling the nation’s school menus.

The nutrition regulations were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and were advocated by Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. For the past five years, US schools have been required to reduce the amount of calories, fat and sodium in their cafeterias and increase offerings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nonfat milk to the about 32 million students who receive federally subsidized meals.

Beginning next school year, schools can request an exemption from the whole grain requirements and delay the sodium mandate.

They would also be able to serve 1 percent flavored milk instead of nonfat.

Perdue said the Obama-era rules had resulted in increased costs for school districts and declining participation in the federal school lunch program.

He said relaxing the rules was part of the administration’s effort to “make school meals great again.”

“If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition — thus undermining the intent of the program,” said Perdue, who announced the changes with a signed proclamation on Monday after having lunch with students at Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, Virginia.

Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, was confirmed in his role last week.

Since schools began complying with the nutrition standards in 2012, many have complained that they are too stringent and costly.

The new rules were projected to cost US$3.2 billion over five years, but Perdue said they had cost states an additional US$1.22 billion in the 2015 fiscal year alone.

The US Congress has allowed states to apply for waivers if they cannot meet certain standards.

Trump’s administration also indicated on Monday that it was eyeing another program that Obama promoted.

It was not clear how serious the administration was about targeting the program, Let Girls Learn, which was spearheaded by former US president Barack Obama and Michelle Obama in 2015 to increase educational opportunities for adolescent girls who face physical danger and other obstacles to going to school.

In a letter circulated internally this week, a Peace Corps official said the initiative would no longer use the Let Girls Learn brand or operate as a discrete program, according to people familiar with the document, which was first reported by CNN.

A senior Trump administration official said there was no plan to end or even rebrand the program, calling the letter a result of an unauthorized and erroneous decision by a career government employee.

When US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s staff learned of the memo on Monday, they insisted that it be reviewed, said the official, who discussed private deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

Tillerson’s spokesman RC Hammond declined to answer questions, providing only a terse statement that said: “No changes have been made to the Let Girls Learn program.”

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