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Feed the kids

As Congress reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act that funds school meals, it should remember the adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

At issue is the Universal Feeding program, which allows more than 110,000 Philadelphia students to eat free lunches without having to fill out applications.

Because the city has such a high poverty rate, the school district basically deems all students eligible. The Department of Agriculture approved the concept when it began the "pilot" program in 1991. But now the federal government wants the district to require more paperwork to determine who gets a free meal.

Under the proposal, all school districts would be required to use "direct certification." Families that receive food stamps or welfare are deemed eligible. But advocates correctly note that many people who are eligible for such benefits don't apply for them.

Philadelphia's Universal Feeding program makes more sense for high-poverty cities. For nearly 20 years, Philadelphia's program has successfully removed the stigma often associated with free-meal programs. Requiring more paperwork may lead to as many as 51,182 students no longer getting free school lunches.

That shouldn't happen. The state's congressional delegation has fought before to keep Philadelphia's program intact, and it should go to bat for it again. In fact, other high-poverty cities should be asking for the program, too. It is the best way to ensure needy children don't go hungry. For many, school provides their only nutritious meal each day.