Opposition to the Obama administration’s plans to end Philadelphia's 17-year-old Universal Feeding school-meal program is growing, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The initiative would require Philadelphia to begin collecting applications from families applying for free and reduced meals. Under Universal Feeding, all students in 200 Philadelphia schools where at least 72 percent of children are from impoverished families get free meals.
Opponents of the change, like Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Penn., and Gov. Edward Rendell, say it would cost the district $1 million more annually in paperwork while potentially leaving thousands of children without school meals. Specter says he will try to include Universal Feeding in this year’s child-nutrition reauthorization bill and, failing that, would use his seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee's appropriations subcommittee to expand Universal Feeding.
Meanwhile, in a recent interview, USDA Deputy Undersecretary Janey Thornton said "it isn't fair" that Philadelphia be the only city with Universal Feeding. The department wants Philadelphia to switch to the "Provision 2" plan that requires families to apply for free meals every four years. In between, the district would use a paperless system similar to Universal Feeding. Provision 2 is currently used in a number of other large districts, including New York City and Pittsburgh, though officials in those cities cite significant problems with administering the program.