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Fattah Announces USDA Has Approved Extension for Philadelphia School Feeding Pilot Program

WASHINGTON, June 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The popular and successful pilot program that provides a no-hassle free lunch for tens of thousands of low-income Philadelphia school children will continue through the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, Congressman Chaka Fattah (D, PA-02) announced today.

Fattah spoke today morning with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who told the Philadelphia Congressman he was granting an extension in response to Fattah's May 29 letter and to urgent requests from Pennsylvania's Senators and Representatives.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had announced earlier this year it was affirming a decision by the Bush Administration to terminate the pilot school lunch program for the School District of Philadelphia at the end of the 2009-2010 term. Secretary Vilsack met with Fattah and other Pennsylvania legislators who strongly urged continuation.

"I have just spoken with the Secretary and I am pleased to announce that he has accepted a plan to keep this vital program operating in a manner that works for all stakeholders -- especially for hungry children living in poverty. We both agreed that the reauthorization process was the best context in which to consider the future of the pilot," Fattah said. "I applaud Secretary Vilsack's commitment to feeding our children and for his leadership on this issue."

The Child Nutrition Act, last reauthorized in 2004, includes the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (originally enacted in 1946) and other child nutrition programs. The House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee plan to take up the Child Nutrition Act later this year.

"I look forward to working with both Chairmen to ensure that the Committees benefit from the lessons learned in Philadelphia and that our children are provided for," Fattah said.

Fattah plans to introduce legislation that builds on the success of the Philadelphia feeding program -- which dates to 1991 -- and expands universal paperless feeding nationally. He expects that this will serve as a basis for reforms to the program in the reauthorization.

The key element of the Philadelphia program is that it is paperless: Student eligibility is based on school-wide demographic surveys of family income rather than individual applications. This reduced administrative expense frees the School District of Philadelphia to provide universal feeding in the highest-poverty schools. Rather than separating out the few students whose incomes are slightly above the cutoff, the District provides its own funds for those meals.

Studies have shown that large numbers of children go hungry when they are required to provide school meal applications. Since students themselves are responsible for the information, forms are often incomplete or not returned. Families with the lowest incomes and in the greatest need are also the least likely to return complete applications.

"Families are balancing countless obligations and trying to make life work. We can't just cross our fingers and hope that paperwork will rise above the din of poverty," Fattah said. "This is one verifiable instance where government red tape and inefficiency gets in the way of helping needy kids."

Under the Bush Administration order, the Philadelphia Pilot was scheduled for termination in June 2010. Today's extension, Fattah said, provides the Congress with time to work on a permanent -- and national -- universal paperless school lunch program.

"We're optimistic that working with Chairmen George Miller (of the House Committee on Education and Labor), Tom Harkin (of the Senate Agriculture Committee) and Secretary Vilsack we will be able to reform and update the program to ensure all eligible kids are getting the food they need to learn and grow," Fattah said.

SOURCE Office of Congressman Chaka Fattah

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