“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” as the adage goes, except if you’re a public employee in New Jersey. That state’s comptroller found that a disturbingly high number of public employees lie about their income so that their kids can get school lunches compliments of the taxpayer.
N.J. State Comptroller Matthew Boxer announced Wednesday that his office had uncovered 83 instances of fraud after investigating 15 of the state’s 53 school districts that receive at least $1 million a year from the federal program, according to the New York City CBS News affiliate. http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/07/17/n-j-state-comptroller-public-employees-lie-about-income-for-break-on-childrens-lunches/
“We had looked at 15 school districts throughout New Jersey and what we found was widespread fraud in the application of the school lunch program in those districts,” Boxer told WCBS. “We focused on public officials and employees and what we found were a number of public employees and officials who were lying on their free lunch application about what their income level was.”
The names of those public employees, plus 26 family members, taking advantage of a program meant for the disadvantaged have been referred for prosecution.
Amazingly, almost half worked for the school districts themselves, including teachers and school board members.
The investigation began because of Marie Munn, whose children received free lunches since 2006 on the basis of filing false applications. After being charged with stealing from the program, she resigned her position as president of the Elizabeth board of education.
After Munn’s arrest, the comptroller’s office began looking for similar instances of fraud, concentrating on public employees.
“If you are familiar with the administration of the program, as many public employees and school district employees would be, you can frame your application in a way to avoid review, and so we wanted to see if what was happening in Elizabeth was true in other districts as well,” Boxer said.
Non-disadvantages students typically pay $2 to $2.50 per lunch. It sounds like peanuts, but it all adds up.
“If you add up all of the under-reported income over the three years for all of those folks, it was $13.9 million,” Boxer told WCBS. “You know the point that we were trying to make in setting forth that number is that we’re not talking about nickel and dime amounts where the applications were off by, you know, 100 bucks here, or 20 bucks there.”
In order to avoid paying $2.50 for lunch, the applicants didn’t just fudge the numbers a bit or make rounding errors — they told whoppers.
“The misstatements that we found were substantial misstatements in an attempt to gain entry into the program,” Boxer said. “There are some individuals for example who understated their income as much as $50,000, $100,000 and even more, on an annual basis.”
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