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McGovern vows to fight for global school lunch program

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 02/12/2011 @ 9:26pm Business Editor

After learning Friday of a House Appropriations Committee plan to trim international food aid by $544 million this year, former Senator George McGovern (D-SD) told Agriculture.com Saturday that he plans to travel to Washington, DC, soon to urge friends in Congress not to cut nearly 30% from programs that help prevent starvation in nations that don’t grow enough food for their people.

McGovern contacted Agriculture.com after learning of the proposed cuts which would hit two programs:  Public Law 480, known as the Food for Peace Program, signed into law in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower is the biggest. The Obama Administration has asked Congress for $1.69 billion this year for PL 480. The other, smaller program is the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. The Administration’s request for it was $210 million.

“Millions of kids will be knocked out of the program. There’s no other way to look at it,” McGovern said in a telephone interview from St. Augustine, Florida, where he spends his winters.

McGovern and his friend, former Senator Bob Dole (R-Ks), had both left Congress when they teamed up to lobby for a new type of school lunch program that would encourage poor children in developing nations, especially girls, to stay in school. In many poor countries, young women don’t get an education, which is considered a factor in early marriage, large families and poor health for those women and their children.

The McGovern-Dole school lunch program was passed as part of the 2002 farm bill and is run by the USDA.

McGovern, who is 88, said he didn’t know if his friend, Bob Dole, would be well enough to actively lobby to save the program. Dole, who was badly injured in Army combat in Italy during World War II, was in the hospital most of last year and has recently returned home, McGovern said.

“Between the two of us, we have lots of friends in the Senate,”  McGovern said. “I can’t believe the Senate will swallow these cuts.”

McGovern said he plans to talk to Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the assistant majority leader for the Democrats and a supporter of the program in the past. He’ll also enlist help in the House from Representative James McGovern (not related to George McGovern), who is one of the new Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee and a strong supporter of the international school lunch program.

The House Appropriations Committee proposal is just the first step in trying to get a spending bill passed. Congress failed to pass a budget for the current fiscal year that started last October and is operating under a continuing resolution at 2010 spending levels. It expires March 4. The committee’s recommendations for a broad range of spending cuts was rejected late last week by freshmen Republican members of the House, who forced the leadership to push for even deeper cuts, in order to meet a campaign pledge to trim federal spending by $100 billion this year. (The actual amount will be less because the fiscal year is partly over.)

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