THE HILL

By: Rep. Ted Poe

In this weekend’s Congress Blog, liberal food policy activist Nancy Huehnergarth asks the question--“Does Rep. Poe want to undermine the financial stability of school meal programs?” The answer is no.

No, I do not want to bankrupt our school meal programs and let our kids go hungry. This ridiculous attempt to distract readers from the real problem and attack my bill—the BAKE Sale act--deserved a personal response.

It is no surprise that Ms. Huehnergarth wants the federal food police to dictate what food is sold in public schools.  After all, she was one of the leading crusaders behind the failed ban on Big Gulps in New York. Her war on “Big Soda” did not end there; she also advocates a nationwide “Soda Tax”. Taxing people for buying soda??? Are you kidding me? As we saw in New York, Americans (and our courts) have already rejected the idea of a Nanny State where the government regulates what citizens can and cannot eat or drink.

As the husband and father of school teachers and the grandfather of 11 young grandchildren, I am well aware of what goes on in our public schools.  I was a football and soccer dad for many years. My kids grew up holding school bake sales to raise funds for team trips to tournaments, new uniforms and other activities.  Bake sales are an American tradition. But recently, the federal food police have come after our schools.

Nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch programs were first established under the Obama administration in accordance with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, regulating all food sold in public schools. However, now the USDA has officially extended its reach, regulating any food sold at fundraisers during the school day (including school bake sales).  Any food sold during school hours must meet the government’s requirements which are listed out in detail in a memo issued by the USDA bureaucrats from their marble palaces in DC. (I wonder if they sell Jumbo Honey Buns in the vending machines at USDA like they do at the White House?)

The lengthy memo lists out nutrition requirements for everything from peanut butter sandwiches to yogurt, cheese and crackers and of course, the bake sale staple--cookies. If food does not meet their specific calorie and nutrition requirements then it can only be sold during a government APPROVED bake sale.  Government approved bake sales can only occur when a state gives an exemption to a school to sell non-approved food (anything that does not meet the government’s food manual) during school hours. As Huehnergarth points out, states can choose the number of exemptions they grant each year (as long as the feds approve). For example, she says Minnesota has decided to allow schools to request approval for a case-by-case exemption from the Smart Snack fundraising standard. So if the varsity cheerleading team in St. Paul wants to hold a bake sale to raise money to go to their national competition they must first have their school file paperwork with the state to request an exemption. Bureaucracy at its finest.  Some states understandably do not want to deal with the burdensome federal regulations so they have decided to allow no exemptions at all, effectively killing the bake sale. My home state of Texas is one of those states.

As a result, teachers in my district recently came to me concerned that this new absurd rule will prevent their students from holding various after school activities. Before the government stepped in, students would use funds raised at bake sales to pay for those extracurricular activities. I agreed that the federal government had gone too far, so I decided to do something about it. That is why I introduced H.R. 5417, the BAKE SALE Act. This legislation would simply prohibit any funds from being used to implement USDA’s new ban on school fundraisers and bake sales during school hours. Washington bureaucrats have no business telling any American (no matter what age) what they can and cannot eat.

One of the Ms. Huehnergarth’s main arguments is that if we continue to allow bake sales in schools, kids will not be hungry and will therefore not buy school lunches, bankrupting our school lunch program. History has proven differently. Bake sales have taken place for decades and students somehow still manage to eat lunch. I know my grandkids rarely will turn down a good meal. If students are turning away their school lunch,  perhaps it’s because this Administration has  regulated food sold in our cafeterias for decades out of existence and replaced it with unappealing government approved food, leaving kids hungry nationwide.

Congress should not fund any efforts to implement this abuse of government power. The idea that Washington bureaucrats or elitist food policy advocates should determine what our kids eat is arrogance at its worst. Parents and students, not the government should decide this. Despite Huehnergarth’s accusations, I am not the Willy Wonka Congressman wishing to turn our public schools into Candyland. I am just another concerned citizen who is FED up with the federal food police.

Poe has represented Texas's 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary committees.