Michelle O’s school lunch free-for-all means massive waste, ballooning costs

July 9, 2014

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Victor Skinner Victor Skinner

Victor is a communications specialist for EAG and joined in 2009. Previously, he was a newspaper journalist.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Critics of Michelle Obama’s federal school lunch overhaul contend the National School Lunch Program wastes tax dollars to recruit students to Summer Food Service and on free-for-all “Community Eligibility” programs.

michellelunch“Food is not enough to attract students,” Peter Schweizer, of the Government Accountability Institute told Columbia’s WACH television station of the federal Summer Food Service program. “So they do a lot of social activities; they have to have raffles and contests to encourage people to come. If it’s a feeding program designed to meet legitimate needs, they shouldn’t have to do that.”

More than 30 million school children receive free and reduced breakfast or lunch every day from the federal government, costing taxpayers roughly $14 billion per year. And according to USDA estimates, about $1 billion worth of the food is thrown into the garbage.

Schweizer contends part of the problem is a new government “Community Eligibility” initiative that’s resulting in handouts for many who don’t need them.

“(It) essentially means an entire community can be opted in to get reduced or free school lunches … whether they need it or not,” he told Fox 45.

The Community Eligibility lunch program “has seen a slow state-by-state rollout since 2010. Certain schools in three states (Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan) were eligible first, based on need and their data-sharing capabilities,” according to Stateline.

“Last year, 4,000 more schools in 11 states participated. But all states will be covered starting this school year. Now the question facing district officials in newly eligible states is whether it makes financial — and political — sense to participate.”

The government only pays a portion of the free lunch program, based on the number of low income students in each school district, but it’s already clear that thousands more public schools will participate in 2014-15. In Chicago, the free lunch program is expected to expand from 465 schools last year to 685 next year. Schools in Fort Wayne, Pittsburg, Nashville, Louisville, Huntsville, and countless other mid- and small-sized school districts also plan on participating next year, according to media reports.

In the meantime, some schools participating in the federally funded Summer Food Service program are struggling to give away free lunches, even when they couple the handout with free meals for parents, as well.

Second Harvest Food Bank worked with school officials in Redwood City and East Palo Alto, California to give away free lunches to parents who brought their children in during the summer for the free federal lunches. The meals, which abide by Michelle Obama’s new nutrition guidelines, aren’t exactly drawing a crowd.

At Fair Oaks School in East Palo Alto less than a dozen children, and only four adults, came in for the food during a visit by the San Jose Mercury News. Those working in the Ravenswood City School District told the news site only about five to 10 students show up each day for the free meals.

Regardless of the low summer participation, the federal school lunch free-for-all is expected to cost taxpayers a significant chunk of change, though the exact amount “is a question mark hanging over the program,” according to Stateline.

“The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2010 that more than 2,200 schools would participate (in the Community Eligibility program) by the end of the decade, at a cost of more than $100 million,” but as Stateline notes “the actual enrollment of the new program has already nearly doubled the 2010 estimate.”

The whole debacle, from the free summer lunch program to the community eligibility giveaways, flies in the face of needs-based aid, and likely will face increased scrutiny and public backlash as the cost of the program inevitably balloons.

“This would just be using money in a way that is not necessarily the most prudent,” Rachel Sheffield, spokeswoman for the Heritage Foundation, told Stateline. “It’s one thing to provide school meals to children who come from low-income homes. It’s another thing to just completely expand a program that’s intended for low-income homes.”

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