Durbin: USDA Should Work More Closely with Chicago Public Schools to Eliminate Fraud in School Lunch Program

WASHINGTON, D.C.—(ENEWSPF)—January 13, 2012. Prompted by a Chicago Tribune report unveiling cases of school employees submitting false information in order to enroll more children for free and reduced lunches, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today called on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to work more closely with schools and school districts – including Chicago Public Schools – to reduce or eliminate fraud in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).  

Specifically, Durbin asked the USDA to brief him on what steps the agency is taking to enhance verification of eligibility for free and reduced school meals and how the agency is working with school districts and schools to bolster eligibility verification measures. 

In a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, Durbin wrote: “Every school day, the NSLP provides over 31 million children with low-cost or free meals. Without this program many parents would not be able to pay for their children to eat lunch. Unfortunately, some adults abuse the NSLP program by intentionally submitting false information in order to enroll their children into the program.  In light of the strained local, state, and federal budgets, it is critical for USDA not only to ensure eligible children participate in NSLP, but also to identify and address fraud in the program.” 

Earlier today, the Chicago Tribune reported on cases of school employees submitting falsified applications to enroll their children for free and reduced lunches. Some schools and school districts are considering strategies to better monitor eligibility for free and reduced school lunches and to conduct more thorough audits of the program.   

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 101,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provided nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2010.  In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children through 18 years of age in afterschool programs. 

[Text of the letter below]

January 13, 2012

Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I write to ask what steps the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking to improve eligibility verification for free and reduced school meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and how your agency is working with schools and school districts to bolster eligibility verification measures. 

Every school day, the NSLP provides over 31 million children with low-cost or free meals.  Without this program many parents would not be able to pay for their children to eat lunch. Unfortunately, some adults abuse the NSLP program by intentionally submitting false information in order to enroll their children into the program.  In light of the strained local, state, and federal budgets, it is critical for USDA not only to ensure eligible children participate in NSLP, but also to identify and address fraud in the program.

The Chicago Tribune reports cases of school employees submitting falsified application to enroll their children for free and reduced lunches. Some schools and school districts are considering strategies to better monitor eligibility for free and reduced school lunches and to conduct more thorough audits of the program.  How is the USDA working with schools and school districts, particularly Chicago Public Schools, to develop improved measures for fraud detection and enforcement?

Last year, the USDA selected Illinois to participate in the Community Eligibility Option (CEO), a promising program that eases the process for schools in high-poverty areas to participate in the NSLP by basing federal reimbursements on community participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), rather than self-reported information from parents. Chicago Public Schools, opted to not participate in the CEO because participation could compromise other sources of funding and programs that rely on individual-level socioeconomic data acquired through school lunch applications. 

I urge USDA to work with CPS to ensure that school districts, which rely on individual data acquired through school lunch applications, are able to participate in an innovative program like the CEO.

The NSLP is a vital nutritional safety net program providing a nutritious school meal for low-income children who might otherwise go hungry.  Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Source: durbin.senate.gov