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Agriculture Secretary Visits Milwaukee To Announce Summer Meal Program Expansion

Vilsack Also Speaks On Renewable Fuel Standard, FoodShare Restrictions During Visit

Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Milwaukee on Friday to help announce an expansion of summer evening meals at Milwaukee schools.

The former Democratic presidential candidate also spoke about federal efforts to increase the use of renewable fuels as well as a Wisconsin proposal to restrict FoodShare purchases during Friday’s visit.

Some Milwaukee schools have offered free suppertime meals for low-income children during the summer in addition to breakfast and lunch. Now, with the help of a corporate donation, the Hunger Task Force says all Milwaukee schools will offer the evening meals for children.

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Vilsack said the need for the meals is huge.

“In Milwaukee, the child poverty rate is about 43 percent, which is remarkable. The child food insecurity rate is about 24 percent — 1 out of every 4 kids struggling every single day to have access to decent food, and enough food,” said Vilsack.

Vilsack said that across the U.S., his department hopes to help serve 200 million meals to low-income children this summer. That would be 13 million more than last summer, and 23 million more than the year before.

Vilsack also spoke on updates to the Renewable Fuels Standard proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday. The ethanol industry has said the plan falls short of goals set by Congress. Vilsack, however, said the plan sets a roadmap for growth.

“I’m sure there are probably some folks who wish that the numbers were higher, there are some who wish they were lower. But at the end of the day, the message is, we’re moving forward. And we want this industry to grow,” said Vilsack.

Vilsack said the Department of Agriculture has created a $100 million grant program that will help states expand the network of pumping stations which sell fuel blends with higher concentrations of ethanol, like E-85. Vilsack also said the USDA will aggressively promote ethanol exports.

Vilsack also said that a bill circulating in the state Legislature to prohibit certain purchases under FoodShare could be costly and create a stigma for those using food stamps. Before Wisconsin could limit what kinds of foods are bought, it would need a federal waiver. Similar proposals in other states have been rejected.

“It is very expensive and very difficult to single out products that people can and cannot buy. And it creates a stigma that we’re trying to avoid,” said Vilsack.

Under Wisconsin’s proposal, two-thirds of food items purchased under FoodShare would have to be considered healthy based on a government-approved list. The bill has passed the state Assembly. A similar bill failed last session.