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Federal school lunch program in PA isn’t resonating with everyone

By Jana Benscoter | Watchdog Arena | 5-20-15

First Lady Michelle Obama is an outspoken advocate who has tried to advance a health foods agenda in public schools, but depending on the school district, her endeavors aren’t warmly welcomed everywhere in the country.

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NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH: Central York School District wants federal help to operate a summer lunch program, but residents are questioning the need for the funding.

News that Central York School District, located in York County, Pa. plans to offer a summer lunch program in 2015 has grassroots activists fired up. The York912 group issued a statement to its members, encouraging them to look into the program’s real cost.

The school district wouldn’t be the first in Pennsylvania to join the ranks of offering the program. Among Central Pennsylvania school districts that offer the program, include, Harrisburg Area School District, Gettysburg Area School District and York City School District.

In a York912 blog, it reports:

The Central York School District has been considering implementing a summertime school lunch program. It would be subsidized by ALL York County taxpayers, since it is funded by the Federal Government. Of course, they will not pay all the costs so CYSD taxpayers will directly subsidize some portion of the program.

That fact remains to be seen. The district wrote that they believe that they can pull off the program “without cost to the district.” Highlights of the proposed program include:

  • Central York School District would serve lunchMonday through Thursday – except on holidays – at Hayshire and Stony Brook Elementary schools
  • Lunches would be prepared at a centralized location and delivered to each site, serving both hot and cold lunches
  • The district will have on-site supervisors and two-four staff members, as well as volunteers, to help serve lunches
  • Students may eat outside on school property; accommodations will be in place in case of inclement weather

The district describes the way around funding the program is that it’s federally-funded through the National School Lunch Program. The summer food program is designed based on the following:

  • The program is government subsidized and set up to break even at its completion
  • Any student ages 18 or under may receive a free lunch at one of the sites during the duration of the program
  • Meals must be consumed on site
  • The state reimburses the district for each meal consumed to cover the cost of administrative costs and food supplies. This total $3.64 per meal.

The district claims it has a growing percentage of Free and Reduced Lunch students, which allows them also to take part in the program. According to a 2012-13 Central York School District annual report, “The number of students receiving free and reduced lunches continues to increase in Central York School District. In 2012-2013, 28% of students qualified. As of October 1, 2013, that 28% of students qualified for the program.”

The district claims its Free and Reduced lunch population has increased as follows: 2001, 13 percent; 2002, 15 percent; 2003, 16 percent; 2004, 18 percent; 2005, 20 percent; 2006, 18 percent; 2007, 19 percent; 2008, 22 percent; 2009, 21 percent; 2010. 21 percent; 2011. 24 percent; 2012. 28 percent; and 2013, 28 percent.

York912 members question the need to implement the program, when the most recent York County statistics show that 9.2 percent of county residents are receiving help from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, SNAP benefits are used to buy and help eligible low-income households in Pennsylvania obtain more nutritious diets by increasing their food purchasing power at grocery stores and supermarkets. And, there are eligibility requirements in order to receive a Pennsylvania Electronic Benefits Transfer Access Card.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau information, the York912 blog writes, shows that most residents in the Central York School District earn an average salary of $60,000, and that 10 percent of people live in poverty.

Central York School District had representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Education attend an April school board meeting. For Central York to offer a site, they must, according to PDE:

  • Attend a state training or complete E-learning online
  • Locate and recruit eligible site(s)
  • Hire, train and supervise staff and volunteers
  • Arrange for meals to be prepared or delivered
  • Monitor their site (s)
  • Prepare claims for reimbursement
  • Ensure that their site is sustainable through community partnerships, fundraising and volunteer recruitment

While Central York is hyping up the idea of taking federal support to provide a summertime meal, other local schools that have tried to do it the federal way are saying no thanks.

According to Fox 43, Hempfield School District lost $120,000 on approximately 50,000 wasted meals since Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented in 2010. In 2014-15 alone, the school district spent $500 on whole grain products.

The program in Central York would begin June 15 and end August 21, the district wrote in its press release.

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.

Jana has worked in journalism for more than a decade, during which she’s covered topics, including: business, education, local and state government, and political corruption. Jana has been published in The Boston Globe, The Daily Caller, Drexel Alumni Magazine, Carolina Journal, Guilford Woman Magazine, The Harrisburg-Patriot News, The High Point Enterprise, Kinston Free Press, Lincoln Tribune Online, the Rhinoceros Times, and others. Find her on Twitter: @jbenz51.

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