Stealing Free Lunch in Chicago

Back to February 2013 Ed Reporter

Stealing Free Lunch in Chicago

The Inspector General (IG) for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has found widespread fraud in the district school lunch program. Not only are children with the means to pay getting free meals, but increased federal and state funding goes to the Chicago district for having more “lunch assisted” students.

Results of the initial investigation were recently released and revealed that some of the parents defrauding the system are CPS employees.

In a review of 1,000 cases of children enrolled in the program, “an astonishing 707 recipients – nearly 71 percent – had their benefits decreased” because of violations by parents. The IG’s report further stated: “This overwhelmingly suggests that the fraud problem pervades the entire application process.”

Fifty-five employees of CPS, including principals and assistant principals, are among those cited in the fraud. Most school employees involved in the initial investigation “have resigned, been disciplined or fired,” according to CBS News in Chicago.

In order to qualify for the free lunch that is meant to be provided to poor children, parents fill out a form stating their income. In one case, a married couple’s “combined CPS salaries of $230,000 weren’t listed on the application of their children.”

CBS in Chicago and the Better Government Association [BGA] first disclosed that “CPS employees were gaming the $175 million program meant for poor children” in a 2010 report. “This is a scam, a scandal and a rip-off of staggering proportions. I have rarely seen any systemic rip-off of this magnitude,” said a BGA representative.

It is expected that federal prosecutors will conduct a wider investigation, with the cooperation of the U.S. Dept of Agriculture which funds the free lunch program. It is taxpayers who are being cheated in this scandal. (CBS News, 01-07-2013)