House passes Titus bill on weekend meals

WASHINGTON -- The House voted Wednesday for the federal government to offer funding to schools and local food banks that supply weekend meals to low-income children.

The Weekends Without Hunger bill passed by voice vote. Republicans objected that the measure would create a new federal program and inflate the bureaucracy, but they did not call for a recorded vote.

The bill sponsor was Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who was defeated last month and is completing her tenure during the lame-duck session.

The bill would create a five-year program that would distribute grants and provide aid to schools and charities that distribute food packages for children to take home over the weekends and during school vacations.

Gregorio Sablan, a Democrat and House delegate from the Northern Mariana Islands, said 3,000 such programs are in place in 46 states.

In Clark County, Three Square Food Bank distributes about 6,000 backpacks each Friday containing 5 pounds of canned meat and fruit, with organizers saying that more could be put to good use.

Titus said during a short debate that half the children in Clark County schools are from families that qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

"While school meals help keep children healthy and ready to learn during the days when school is in session, there is no targeted federal childhood nutrition program available to provide these children with food during the weekends and extended holidays," Titus said.

"As this Congress moves to give tax breaks to millionaires, I implore you not to forget the children," Titus said, a reference to the controversial tax agreement moving separately on Capitol Hill.

Speaking against the Titus bill, Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., said it would add "yet another program to the ever-expanding federal government."

"Every member of this chamber wants to fight childhood hunger, but adding one more program in the long line of new programs is not the way to do it," he said.

Titus watered down her bill to ease its passage. The original version required spending $10 million annually over five years, and the latest version puts spending at the discretion of Congress each year.

Titus said there still was value in getting such a program created even if its funding might be uncertain.

She said afterward that she would work with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, to obtain final passage before the end of the year.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.