Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Thursday, 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.


At Thu Oct 23, 10:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At Thu Oct 23, 11:32:00 AM, Blogger Crucis said...

Ya gotta keep them feddy bureaucrats employed. If there's no paper work, they can't justify their paychecks, donchaknow.

At Thu Oct 23, 01:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I missed out on grants and programmes of this sort as a kid for exactly this reason: my mother hated to admit we were poor and refused to fill out any paperwork.

But bureaucracy doesn't see people, of course.

At Thu Oct 23, 02:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When the feds started the Vaccines for Children program years ago, they wanted to force docs in universal vaccination states to separate VFC-funded vaccine bottles from state-funded vaccine bottles, to ensure that VFC vaccines were given to only Medicaid-eligible kids. It took an amazing lot of time to convince them that since each state's VFC funding was based on its Medicaid stats, we didn't need to separate vaccines by funding source because if a doc happened to (gasp!) pump a little VFC-funded Hib vaccine into an insured kid's thigh, he or she would pump the same amount of state-funded vaccine into some Medicaid kid's thigh. Ledgers even, no fraud, no additional paperwork or fruitless attempts to track which agency paid for which vial.

But try and convince a fed that lack of paperwork doesn't equal fraud.

At Thu Oct 23, 02:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, we should be subsidizing programs that have positive externalities, like public education, and this is obviously a program that complements that. In the long-run, it's likely to be a cost-saver. Children will stay in school because they get meals, and get better grades because they aren't hungry and maybe, just maybe, be more productive citizens when all is said and done.

These idiots have clearly missed the point, probably because they've never had or been poor children.

I suppose it's cheaper to build more prisons than to create programs to keep children in school, right? Ugh. There isn't a rolleyes big enough in the world for this kind of nonsense.

At Thu Oct 23, 06:03:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Sigh. Maybe we should just scrap government and start again.

At Fri Oct 24, 06:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article is kind of poorly written, but it sounds like they just decided to give free lunches to every kid. I can see why that's problematic. I'm not sure why I need to be paying for rich kid lunches - the point of a meal program for poor kids is... to feed poor kids. Surely it would be easier to make the enrollment process less burdensome than to start paying for lunch for every kid in america.

At Sat Oct 25, 10:53:00 AM, Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

Anon 6:58: There aren't any rich kids in these schools. 75% of them may qualify as low-income, but the other 25% ain't much above that. The "rich kids" -- the ones who haven't yet moved out of the city, that is -- all go to private schools. We are not talking about "paying for lunch for every kid in America."

At Tue Oct 28, 02:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>Anonymous red rabbit said...

I missed out on grants and programmes of this sort as a kid for exactly this reason: my mother hated to admit we were poor and refused to fill out any paperwork.>>

replace "mother" with "father" and yeah, me too.


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