Pupils attacked by rightwing bureaucratic pettifuggery

Chris Brady cdbrady at attglobal.net
Tue Jan 7 15:52:57 MST 2003

 No Free Lunch plan worries some
 Critics say eligible kids may miss out if parents have to prove

By Suzanne Pardington
 CONTRA COSTA TIMES, Posted on Sat, Jan. 04, 2003


  Some federal lawmakers and school officials warn that poor children
could go  hungry if President Bush asks students to prove that they
qualify for free and  discounted meals at school.

 The Bush administration may propose a crackdown on ineligible students
in the  National School Lunch Program in the budget he submits to

 If Congress approves it, the new requirement could kick millions of
children out of  the program and save the federal government about $1
billion a year.

 But asking students to submit verification of their families' income
could deter  eligible students from signing up, said Rep. George Miller,
D-Martinez, senior  Democrat on the House education committee. He and 24
other Democratic  representatives cautioned the White House against the
move in a letter to Bush's  budget director last month.

 Currently, parents state their income on an application, but only 3
percent of  families are spot-checked for backup documentation, such as
a pay stub or public  assistance receipts.

 A Census Bureau study based on a 1999 income survey suggests that 27
percent more children are approved for the program nationally than are
actually  eligible. At that rate, about 6.7 million children are wrongly
served federally  subsidized meals every day.

 If all families were required to prove their income, school officials
say it would  create a bureaucratic mess, especially in large districts
such as West Contra  Costa Unified, where 17,000 students qualify for
free or discounted meals.

 In addition, some families may not submit proof of their income because
they  distrust the government or feel embarrassed about asking for help,
school  officials said. Some children may lose the forms or forget to
give them to their  parents, they said.

 "The impact on that is really tremendous," said Heidy Camorongan, food
service  director for West Contra Costa schools. "That will hurt not
just this district but a  number of districts."

 Miller said he does not oppose enforcing the income rules, but it
should not be  done at the expense of children who legitimately qualify.
When a similar proposal  was made in the 1980s, a study found that six
eligible students were kicked off  the rolls for every ineligible child,
he said.

 "You've got to be very careful how you do it," he said. "You do not
want to take  steps that prevent eligible families from participating,
because that's a major part  of the nutrition they receive each day."

 The White House is still discussing whether to push for the change, a
spokeswoman in the budget office said. Any savings from enforcing income
rules  would be put back into the program to make sure more needy
children are  enrolled, said Amy Call.

 "The president believes in the program," she said. "He wants to
preserve the  integrity of the program. He wants to make sure the funds
go to those most in  need."

 A family of four must make no more than $23,530 a year for free meals
at  school and $33,485 for reduced-price meals.

 Asking schools to verify family income levels would not cut off
children in  legitimate need of food, said Robert Rector, senior
research fellow for the  Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

 Other public assistance programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid,
require  proof of income to prevent fraud, he said.

 "It's reasonable to try to make sure that money going to assist the
poor is going  to the people you are trying to assist," he said.
"Otherwise it's not fair to  anyone."

 In the first year of a pilot verification program by the U.S.
Department of  Agriculture, the number of free lunches served dropped by
21 percent on average  when families were asked to prove their income
levels up-front.

 Congress will consider changes to the school lunch program when federal
child  nutrition programs come up for reauthorization this year.

 It would be naive to think that no families misrepresent their income
to sign up  for free lunches, said Reed McLaughlin, superintendent of
the Pittsburg Unified  School District, where nearly 60 percent of
students are eligible for free and  reduced-price meals.

 But he said he would be surprised if the number is as high as the
Agriculture  Department claims.

 "We're feeding half the world," he said. "Can't we feed our own, even
if it's a little  off in the numbers?"

{nice split of the international working class!}

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