NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Suspicions that School Lunch Program is Being Abused

January 17, 2003

The Bush administration is considering auditing the national school lunch program to assure that only those who qualify are being served. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that $1 billion worth of lunches per year are going to children who are ineligible to participate because their family income exceeds federal guidelines.

More is at stake than just the number of lunches being served because states and school districts use the program to estimate poverty levels at schools. And these figures help determine the level of federal aid accorded poorer schools.

  • USDA reports about 28 million children get their lunch each day through the program -- which cost $6.8 billion in 2002.
  • A family of four with an annual income of up to $23,530 qualifies for free meals, while families that make $33,485 qualify for reduced-price lunches costing up to 40 cents.
  • A USDA study last year estimated that one-in-five children participating might be ineligible because the family's income is too high.

Advocates for the poor are fighting the idea of an audit -- contending that it will discourage eligible children from participating.

Source: Greg Toppo, "Abuse of School Lunch Program Targeted," USA Today, January 17, 2003.

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