Sometimes sanity prevails. Philly’s Universal Feeding school lunch program–whose announced cancellation caused an uproar the other week–just got a reprieve, at least until 2010. The Philly Inquirer has the story:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided not to discontinue a Philadelphia school breakfast and lunch program that provides free meals to poor students, members of the city’s congressional delegation announced yesterday.
Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter and Rep. Chaka Fattah said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had reversed an agency plan to end the program, which allows more than 120,000 students in poor schools to eat free meals without having to fill out applications.
USDA spokeswoman Chris Mather said the agency had “postponed making a decision” on the program until Congress considered a national update of child nutrition programs. Congress this year is expected to consider a reauthorization and overhaul of the Child Nutrition Act.
But postponement is better than nothing. And it gives time for Sens. Casey and Specter to write the program into law (it’s currently a pilot program) as well as to push for an expansion of the program into other cities. I don’t have a sense at the moment of their chances for success since the reauthorization itself has so many moving parts — it’s not at all clear what the reformed Child Nutrtion Act will look like. That said, as I observed in my original post on the subject, automatic opt-in programs like Universal Feeding are exactly the kind of reforms that many in the Obama adminstration, such as Budget Director Peter Orszag and his deputy Cass Sunstein, are committed to introducing.
To me, this story is about USDA Under Secretary Janey Thornton’s disastrous debut on school lunch policy. It was she, after all, who allowed this whole cancellation debacle to happen. We can only hope she has learned her lesson.