In Nevada, Vilsack says he’s ‘encouraged’ by talk with Manchin on reconciliation bill

Ag secretary visits a Henderson school and stumps for plan’s nutrition provisions

By: - July 9, 2021 6:31 am

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (second from left) visited Estes McDoniel Elementary School in Henderson Thursday with Supt. Jesus Jara, Rep. Susie Lee, and Gov. Steve Sisolak. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

On Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited an elementary school in Southern Nevada to round up support for parts of the sweeping program to invest in education, health, child care, and numerous other services that aren’t included in the infrastructure framework many Republicans have agreed to support.

And Vilsack said he was “encouraged” by conversations he’s had with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose support will be critical for passage of the Biden agenda in a 50-50 Senate.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak joined Vilsack on a tour of Estes McDoniel Elementary School in Henderson to get a first hand look at the school’s summer feeding program lunch service.

Chicken sandwiches, fries, apple slices, and carrots were served to children as part of the program, a program that may get a boost if Congress manages to pass provisions in what the White House calls the American Families Plan, and the nutrition benefits that come with it.

Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa who also served as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Obama administration, said provisions of the sprawling legislative proposal would decrease hunger among children and expand free lunch programs in Nevada and the nation.

“We know that when these feeding programs work, poverty is reduced, kids have better health outcomes and better school outcomes and that is a return on investment any governor, any superintendent, any principle would want,” Vilsack said.

The $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, unveiled by Biden in late April, includes $45 billion to expand a number of nutrition programs that assist families with children who struggle with food insecurity.

The pandemic-EBT program sent money to families of students receiving free or reduced school lunch during summer vacation last year. The American Families Plan would provide some $25 billion to continue the practice every summer.

On average, the pandemic-EBT program gives families an extra $114 per child per month, on top of any other Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits they receive.

The American Families Plan would also invest $17 billion in the Community Eligibility Provision, a program which allows schools in high-poverty areas to give students free lunch.

“Kids who are not fed well, kids who are not fed at all, have a very hard time being educated and that compromises their future and our country’s future,” Vilsack said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture previously announced that all children will receive universal free school lunch through June 30, 2022, because of the pandemic.

Nevada Democratic Rep. Susie Lee, who was at the school with Sisolak and Vilsack, said the American Rescue Plan passed in March has already delivered benefits to school districts and helped launch free lunch programs, adding that the American Families Plan would only add to those benefits.

“We know that here in Clark County 75% of students — three out of four — qualify for free or reduced lunch,” Lee said. “This is a significant part of what we do as a school district.”

“Back in 2020, 1 in 3 students was food insecure. Today it’s 1 in 4. What we have done has worked, but clearly we still have work to do and that’s what the American Families Plan is all about,” Lee said.

The nutrition provisions would also allow individuals convicted of a drug-related felony to receive SNAP benefits, which many are unable to receive currently.

The plan also includes two years of preschool paid for by the government and addresses teacher shortages by raising scholarships for future teachers and helping current teachers get additional certifications in needed areas.

Vilsack emphasized that the American Families Plan is an important companion piece to the proposed American Jobs Plan, the infrastructure deal that several Senate Republicans say they will support following negotiations with the White House.

“Infrastructure is critically important to economic growth, but if that is all we do it will not be enough,” Vilsack said. “It’s necessary that we also recognize that investing in American families is the human infrastructure that’s going to ensure a competitive future for the country.”

President Joe Biden and all of the Nevada delegation are committed to passing a bipartisan infrastructure package, said Lee.

“We were most devastated by the pandemic and this is going to be a jobs package, something that will help us diversify our economy,” Lee said. “There is no state in this country that stands to benefit from this package more than our state.”

Once the American Jobs Plan is passed, however, Lee said she expects there will be negotiations to what will ultimately be included in the American Families Plan. 

If Republicans oppose the American Families Plan and Congress fails to reach a bipartisan agreement, the plan will need to be passed through the reconciliation process that circumvents the Senate filibuster and allows legislation to be passed by a simple majority. Biden has said he is committed to taking that route if necessary. 

The reconciliation process still means all 50 Democratic senators and the Vice President would have to vote for legislation, and conservative Democratic Sens. Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have yet to commit to the full agenda favored by the White House and other congressional Democrats.

Vilsack said Thursday that during a recent phone call with Manchin he was “encouraged by the comments he made relative to his support for the concept of the families plan.” 

“We didn’t go into details, we didn’t go into amounts, we didn’t go into specifics but it occurred to me from that conversation that he understands the significance and the importance of it,” Vilsack said.

“I think the senator will appreciate and understand how much is at stake” with the nutrition and education portions of the plan, Vilsack said.

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies.