Casey, Specter, Fattah, Schwartz, Brady Introduce Companion Bills to Nationalize Philadelphia Universal School Meals Program

WASHINGTON, DC– U.S. Senators Bob Casey and Arlen Specter and U.S. Representatives Chaka Fattah, Allyson Schwartz and Robert Brady introduced legislation to use the innovative Philadelphia universal school meals program model as a national program to feed children, reduce bureaucracy and save money.  Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to extend the Philadelphia feeding program pending reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.  The bill introduced would serve as the basis for the extension of the program in the Child Nutrition Act.

“Modernization of the school lunch program is one of my top priorities when the Senate reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act later this fall,” said Senator Casey.    “The current system is inefficient and outdated.  The pilot program in Philadelphia has shown how successful it can be in ensuring that students are eating nutritious meals.”

“I am pleased to cosponsor this legislation to ensure that low-income children in every major city have access to nutritious meals,” Specter said.  “The Philadelphia Universal Feeding program serves an excellent model for our nation and a vital step in the important goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015.”

Congressman Fattah (PA-02) said, “Kids who eat better learn better. It's as simple as that. Poor kids may not always get the nutrition they need at home, but the Philadelphia pilot program has provided them with nutritious meals at school. It works in Philadelphia, it will work nationally, and it is time to build on this local success story. I applaud Secretary Vilsack’s interest in feeding all needy kids and reducing government inefficiency, and look forward to working with him to enact this program.”

“Our legislation helps us achieve President Obama’s goal of ending American childhood hunger by 2015.  I am proud to work with my colleagues to ensure that children are healthy, nourished, and better prepared for school. This bill brings to the national level what Philadelphia has done successfully: cutting administrative expenses and redirecting those savings into ensuring that more children receive the nutritious meals they need to be healthy and productive kids,” said U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (PA-13).

Congressman Brady said, "I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Paperless Enrollment for School Meals of 2009 which utilizes the very successful Philadelphia model. The passing of this important legislation will ensure that economically disadvantaged children will not be denied free and reduced price breakfast and lunch because of red tape. The program works in Philadelphia and it will make a difference in the lives of needy children across the nation."

Senators Casey and Specter introduced the legislation in the Senate with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO).

“We can’t expect our kids to focus on fractions if their stomachs are growling. This bill removes barriers to education by making sure kids come to class well-fed and ready to learn.  It will cut expenses and reduce paperwork so that schools can focus on preparing our kids for the future rather than clearing administrative hurdles,” Bennet said.

In  phone calls with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack last week, Senator Casey and Congressman Fattah discussed plans to work with the USDA on this legislation. 

The bill will make it easier for schools serving very high proportions of low-income children to serve free school meals to all students.  Schools will benefit from reduced paperwork.  Distressed parents will not have to fill out duplicative forms.  Needy children will not face stigma in the cafeteria.  

The bill creates alternatives to the standard paper application process and meal claiming procedures for schools and districts serving concentrations of low-income children.  Specifically, the bill would allow schools or districts that agree to serve breakfast and lunch free to all students for 5 years to be reimbursed based on socioeconomic data rather than individual applications.  The school or district gets administrative relief in exchange for covering any costs that exceed federal reimbursements. 

Socioeconomic data may be gathered using a household survey, census data or data from other means-tested programs including the Food Stamp Program and Medicaid.  Alternatively, schools or districts serving a student body with high rates of receipt of means-tested benefits can bypass the standard application process if they automatically enroll a high share of such students for free school meals through a process known as direct certification.   Schools or districts that elect this option serve all meals free and get reimbursed based on the share of students directly certified; no applications or complicated cafeteria meal tracking systems are needed. 

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