Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | October 23, 2008

What Does the Federal Government do to a Highly Successful Local Program?

They shut it down, of course:

A highly regarded Philadelphia schools breakfast-and-lunch program – the only one of its kind in the United States – is being terminated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.The 17-year-old program aimed at poor students is unique because it doesn’t require students and their families to fill out application forms for free or reduced-price meals. This maximizes student participation.

The USDA said it needed the applications to better monitor the program.


Universal Feeding was based on a concept originated by Philadelphia Community Legal Services and Temple University in 1991.

It eliminated the need for poor children and their parents to fill out applications for free and reduced school meals.

Simple as it sounds, the process of having poor children bring home lunch forms for parents to fill out is a daunting task, said Jonathan Stein, general counsel of Community Legal Services. It was Stein who worked with Temple to get Universal Feeding going.

Children forget, and poor parents already beset by outsized difficulties are unwilling or unable to deal with the forms. And so they languish unsigned. And children miss out on meals, Stein said.

At Stein’s suggestion, Temple researchers surveyed Philadelphia schools and learned that about 200 of the district’s 280 schools had high enrollments of low-income children – around 75 percent.

“If you have a large majority of poor children in a school, get rid of the paper applications and just provide free lunches and breakfasts for everyone,” Stein said.

The lack of paperwork saved the district money, advocates said. And another, more subtle problem was overcome: poor children’s stigma over receiving free meals.

Studies show that children who are eligible for free or reduced-cost school meals often do not eat them if other, better-off students pay for their own, said Kathy Fisher, an expert on public benefits for Public Citizens for Children and Youth in Philadelphia.

The program was eliminating paperwork and stigma, advocates said. The participation rate in the Philadelphia Universal Feeding sites has been nearly twice the rate as in non-Universal sites – 80 percent vs. 45 percent.

So you have an important program that’s working so well that school districts throughout the country want to emulate it (read the whole article) in part because of the elimination of paperwork, and the Federal Government in its infinite wisdom decides that it prefers the “increased accuracy” of individual paper applications. Un-fucking-believable!

Why would they do this?

Advocates claim that as soon as other cities clamored for the program, the USDA ended Universal Feeding in Philadelphia to save money.

Daniel of the USDA said that wasn’t the case.

Of course not.

Look, I don’t like paying taxes any more than the next extinct giant lizard, but I’d far rather have my money going to feed poor children than bailing out greedy rich bank executives. Attention USDA: Get with the fucking program already, and restore funding for that program and others like it.


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