Remarks by the President and First Lady at the Signing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
10:33 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, hello, hello! (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thank you, everybody. Please, please have a seat.
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 [sic] McConnell, the ranking Republican who helped facilitate the smooth passage of this bill; Senator Chambliss, who was the lead Republican; Republicans 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.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you all, thanks so much, and good morning.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
MRS. OBAMA: 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.)
MRS. OBAMA: 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.
MRS. OBAMA: Let’s go do it. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.)
END 10:53 A.M. EST