House may re-instate Philadelphia’s free lunch

    Philadelphia’s congressional delegation is working to rescue the city’s unique school lunch program, which is set to expire this year.

    Philadelphia’s Congressional delegation is working to preserve the city’s unique school lunch program. The 20-year system for feeding children is set to expire this year.

    Philadelphia’s lunch program varies from other school districts’ in the US. Rather than requiring individual applications or approving only children whose parents collect food stamps, the city surveys the entire school population’s economic situation. If, say, 60 percent of the school qualifies for USDA school lunches, the school district picks up the tab for the remaining kids and offers school lunches to everyone.

    Rachel Meeks, the policy center manager for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, says the program has been successful.

    Meeks: It saves the district a lot of administrative funds from collecting individual applications, and it also reduces the stigma of receiving free meals so a lot more kids participate in the program.

    Thanks to representatives from Philadelphia, a US House bill to reauthorize the nation’s school lunch program has an amendment to continue Philadelphia’s program and expand it to more districts. Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak says Philadelphia has benefited from the program.

    Sestak: We know that its universal pilot feeding program — which has been in existence for 20 years — has cost less and been more effective at delivering meals to those who meet the requirements of being children without access to enough food at home.

    The Senate version of that bill passed without the amendment. If Congress does not get it reauthorized, the city may revert to national protocols of getting students signed up. The USDA has extended Philadelphia’s school lunch program until the end of the year.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal