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NYT reports Framingham sending constables to collect upaid school meals

Yesterday's NY Times included a distressing article about parents falling behind in paying for school lunches, and schools having to act like collections agencies because otherwise they have to cut school budgets elsewhere. Apparently the Framingham school district is sending constables to parents' homes with letters from the school asking for their money !! The second page of the article it talks about how some of these families who are behind in payments might qualify for free or reduced lunches but for the parents failure or reluctance to fill out the application (and the likelihood that many may be immigrant-headed households, which would certainly be true for the large Brazilian population in Framingham). Here's the NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/education/09lunches.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss&src=ig&
 
It entirely possible that many of these children should be getting free meals in the first place, even without filing a paper application. Under the National School Lunch Program law, a school child qualifies for free meals if ANY member of the household gets FS/SNAP or TAFDC benefits - even if the child does not. Known as "direct certification" -  children are "categorical eligible" for free meals if ANY household member gets cash or SNAP benefits. MLRI has discovered that the data matching between DESE and DTA this school year and the last few years has not included children at home who themselves are not recipients of benefits. 
 
As Coalition members know from the 11.22.10 Coalition email, according to FNS, Massachusetts is second worst in the U.S., with only 61% of categorically low income children getting free meals in the state. (See FNS Report, October 2010, Figure 8, Pg 20): https://www.fns.usda.gov/
 
MLRI recently made a series of recommendations to DESE and EOHHS on the low direct certification problem including improving the DESE-DTA data exchange on non-recipient children living with SNAP or TAFDC household members, as well as recommended specific revisions to the paper application forms. We also requested DESE ensure local districts provide paper applications in multiple languages and have a pending request for specific school based-data on direct certification, "no-pay" status, etc. However, given these local practices of pursing local families with dunning letters or constables, we need to our redouble efforts and ask for your help !!  
 
PLEASE let Pat Baker, MLRI, know ASAP if you have any families who have been contacted by constables or otherwise harassed by schools for payment of school meals but it appears that the child/ren should have qualified for free or reduced meals.