Disclaimer: I am an employee of Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Any opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
High school cafeteria in Chicago (image courtesy: Chicago Tribune)
Another great investigative report by Monica Eng broke just yesterday: School free-lunch program dogged by abuses at CPS. This is highly upsetting news. I have never personally witnessed fraud of any sort at any of the schools in which I have worked during my career with CPS. That being said, I don’t feel surprised. Although I have never discussed school lunch fraud on the blog, but many of you have left blog comments about your concerns regarding parents who lie on applications for free or reduced meals. Eng’s reporting does find irregularities:
The eligibility requirements for food stamps and for free lunches are roughly the same: up to 130 percent of the poverty level, or $29,064 a year for a family of four. Yet the Tribune found that in at least 167 Chicago schools, the percentage of students receiving free lunches was at least 20 percentage points higher than the percentage enrolled in the country’s two primary aid programs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and Temporary Aid for Needy Families, or TANF [...]
In short, critics say, the government has created an $11 billion program conducted largely on the honor system, and one that appears to reward everyone except taxpayers. [...]
“The parent gets a free meal (for a child),” he said. “Schools get more money if they have a higher poverty rate. The lunchroom has more employees if they serve more meals. The vendor gets more money. There’s no incentive for anyone involved in the process to make sure that the meal application is correct.”
I’m happy to see Senator Durbin (who I met in October) already taking action within hours of the story breaking: Durbin asks USDA to help reduce school lunch fraud risk.
Fraud and corruption cannot be allowed to continue. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) doesn’t have the money to let this go on. As it currently stands, some kids who have the money to pay for school lunch get it for free. There needs to be more oversight in the administration and eligibility in the program. What are your thoughts?