N.J. probe finds widespread fraud in school lunch program

 State Comptroller, Matt Boxer, reviews the evidence for the school lunch program fraud. (Phil Gregory/NewsWorks)

State Comptroller, Matt Boxer, reviews the evidence for the school lunch program fraud. (Phil Gregory/NewsWorks)

An investigation of 15 school districts has uncovered widespread fraud in New Jersey’s school lunch program.

Investigators found that 83 public employees, including school board members and teachers, under-reported their incomes on applications so their children could qualify for free or low-cost school lunches, said state comptroller Matt Boxer Wednesday.

“What we found are people who work for the government lying to the government about how much the government is paying them, all to benefit from a program that is designed to help those in need,” Boxer said.

Federal guidelines allow school districts to review only 3 percent of the school lunch applications closest to income eligibility limits.

“Basically, what that means at the end of the day is, as long as you lie big enough about your income to avoid being real close to the income limit, your application will go right through and you’ll be enrolled in the program without anyone ever checking to see if you’re telling the truth about the income numbers,” said Boxer, who is pushing for more aggressive audits.

In his audit report, Boxer also recommends the state reconsider whether to use school lunch enrollment data to calculate the amount of aid given to school districts.

“Given all the problems that we and others have found in the lunch program, we are risking school aid being administered based on the amount of fraud rather than the amount of need,” he said.

The employees and 26 family members accused of falsifying information on their applications are being referred to the Division of Criminal Justice for prosecution.

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