Senator Michael Doherty, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, issued the following statement in response to the Sunday Star Ledger’s analysis of New Jersey’s free and reduced school lunch program:
“I disagree with the Star- Ledger’s analysis of the amount of fraud in New Jersey’s school lunch program. I stand by my statement that 37 percent of all school lunch recipients are ineligible. This figure is underscored by the ongoing investigation into fraud in the school lunch program in the Elizabeth School District.
“Regardless of the figure used, the amount of fraud in the free and reduced school lunch program is massive and the cost to the taxpayers is enormous, it runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“No one is suggesting that a hungry child be denied breakfast or lunch, all I am asking is that the school lunch program be removed as one of the primary metrics for determining school aid. I believe we should follow the advice of the State Auditor who states that: ‘due to the nature of the self-reporting application process and the error rate, eligibility for the school lunch program should not be used as a determination factor for other state funding and policy decisions.’
“Under New Jersey’s system for funding schools, enrolling a student in the free and reduced price lunch program triggers an ‘At Risk’ designation for the student, which results in an about an additional $5, 000 of state school aid under New Jersey’s school funding formula. If you consider that 428, 000 students are enrolled in the free and reduced price lunch program, a 37% error rate may result in a fraud totaling nearly $1 billion per year; or if you accept the Star Ledger’s analysis, ‘only’ $300 million. Either way it’s a lot of money that could be used to reduce property taxes statewide.”