Below is an email I sent today to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dear Mr. Schafer:
Today's Philadelphia Inquirer contains a news article [see link below] alleging that U.S. Department of Agriculture intends to kill Philadelphia's "Universal Feeding Program," which provides some 121,000 students with free or reduced-priced school meals. According to the Inquirer, "the participation rate in the Philadelphia Universal Feeding sites has been nearly twice the rate as in non-Universal sites -- 80 percent vs. 45 percent." Perhaps, that explains why U.S. Senator Tom Harkin --Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry -- recommended that Philadelphia's program serve as the model for other school districts throughout the country.
Instead, USDA sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Education announcing the program's termination. According to the news article, USDA is killing the 17-year old program now because it seeks greater accuracy (by demanding individual application forms that had not been required in the past), when accounting for the children in the program. (Cynics suspect that USDA decided to drop Philadelphia's program -- as too expensive -- after New York and Los Angeles sought something similar.)
The demand for individual applications assures fewer children will be fed. Why? Because, according to Jonathan Stein, general counsel of Community Legal Services, "Children forget, and poor parents already beset with outsized difficulties are unwilling or unable to deal with the forms."
Although I do not necessarily sympathize with the "outsized difficulties" of irresponsible parents, I do believe their children should be fed. After all, the appeal issued by Pennsylvania's Department of Education noted that the termination of the program would hurt "the children who depend upon the school district as the source, and sometimes the only source, of one of the basic necessities of life, which is food."
Finally, USDA's demand for individual application forms, which will deprive some children of food in Philadelphia and cost the Philadelphia school district at least $800,000 annually, surfaces at the very moment when the Bush administration has put in place a program to lavish $700 billion on equally irresponsible and unaccountable Wall Street bankers and financiers.
As a taxpayer living in Philadelphia -- who has no children in the program -- I find it outrageous that USDA would decide to end Philadelphia's "Universal Feeding Program." But I'm not surprised. Republican administrations almost always choose to protect profits over people. Which is why a gathering political tsunami will soon sweep Republicans out of office.
Walter C. Uhler
Link: click here