Should New York call in bill collectors for owed lunch money?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested on a radio show that cash-strapped New York may have to cut off lunch to high school students whose parents are debt for past lunches. He said parents stiffed the schools out of $7 million in lunch fees last year.

From The New York Post:

” ‘It may be we get to that. The first thing is let’s try to get the parents to pay,’ Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.” …

“Bloomberg said he wants to give the parents a chance to make good before calling on bill collectors.”

” ‘We want to keep this between the families and the schools and we don’t want to use collection agencies,’ the mayor said.”

A lot of teachers on our blog complain about kids being on free or reduced lunches when they don’t seem to need to be but what happens to kids that don’t show up with money? Our school stamps their little hands to remind you to put money in their accounts and will spot them a cheese sandwich if you don’t bring in money. But for how long I’m not sure.

What happens at your school if a kid never brings in lunch money – will they keep feeding them? Also what if they owe money? What will happen?

Do you think the schools should cut off the older kids? The younger kids? Should bill collectors be called in? Should they help those families get on free or reduced lunch if their kid never has lunch money?

– By Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, ajcMomania

27 comments Add your comment


February 14th, 2011
2:16 pm

No idea what happens if no money exists in the account at school. When the balance gets low, we are sent a reminder by email and there is also a “hard copy” sent home. We then just either send a check with the kid or pay it online (usually a check as the school systems charges a fee for online payment).


February 14th, 2011
2:41 pm

The school lunch program was orginally begun because when young men went to sign-up for the military after high school they were found to have all sorts of issues linked to mal-nutrition (sp?)…… so when they don’t pay, let the military pay, and then demand two years of service out of the kid…. kidding, kidding!!!

I really think that once they come in so many times without any money, a well placed, non-robo call from the district might do more good then sending out the debt collecters. Or if the kid comes too many times w/o money a well placed call to DFACS may be in order (does mom or child have nicely done nails, hair, braids, car, clothes??) as some families have their priorities mixed up!


February 14th, 2011
2:51 pm

At the middle and high school my boys attend…there is no charging of lunches. If there is no money in your account/hand, you don’t eat. Come to think of it, elementary was that way the last couple of years also.

This is a tough one. I hate to think of kids going without food but at the same time parents need to step up and take care of their children.

I wonder if the system has fostered this situation after years of allowing the “free and reduced” lunch system to be abused and then allowing excessive charges. It seems many parents now feel it is not their problem and the school is responsible for feeding Junior (the whole entitlement mentality). I also know of families with plenty of money that NEVER pay for field trips either because they know Junior will be allowed to attend anyway. Of course, Junior is attending on the dime of the parents who actually pay. —– I’m tired of paying for others.

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

February 14th, 2011
3:35 pm

My kid’s school still feeds the kids if they are in the red on their school lunch balance…..the kicker is that they let us know that our debts are on the principle of his school, so if we don’t pay, she’s on the hook for it.


February 14th, 2011
3:38 pm

I’m pretty sure if a kid shows up and there’s no money in the lunch account and he/she has no money that they feed them anyway where my oldest is attending this year. I think if a child has no money for lunch and isn’t a “free lunch” kid, then a note to the home should be sent that day AND a call from an administrator needs to be made that day. Both methods of contact need to reference a rule (that should be made, entered in the handbook and enforced) in the student handbook for the school district stating that children who either do not qualify for free lunch or do not have money in their accounts or on their person will be fed for free one day and the parent(s) notified. After that if the child again shows up empty-handed, then they will be fed lunch, but DFACS will be notified. There is a freaking FREE LUNCH program out there, and if the parents are too sorry and lazy to apply for it -then they don’t deserve any breaks. If they don’t want DFACS nosing around their house, then they need to stay on top of things -like feeding their children! If they can’t get it together to apply for free lunch or send lunch money, especially after a phone and letter warning, then it may be a really good idea for DFACS to check things out at that house.

If the family qualifies for free or reduced lunch -then they should get on it. How pathetic if they’ve ignored all the registration materials pushed in their faces since they registered the kid for school, but maybe a DFACS visit would get their lazy butts to fill out the paperwork. If they don’t qualify, and they’re just idiots, then they should be called immediately upon the discovery of no lunch money, and be made to come pick up their child or bring the child lunch. The rest of us shouldn’t be picking up the tab.

As far as bill collectors -NYC needs to closely examine how effective they think that would be and how much they think they would regain as opposed to how much hiring and paying these bill collectors is going to cost.


February 14th, 2011
3:48 pm

@JATL: At some schools, the administrator making those phone calls would be on the phone all afternoon . . .


February 14th, 2011
3:58 pm

@DB -oh well! Most schools have a number of vice principals, so they could take turns and use the school secretary too if need be. If we don’t do something, these parasitic parents continue and it never ends. I have a feeling if DFACS started showing up the 2nd time this happened or the parents were forced to come pick up their child or bring them lunch, they may not be spending too many afternoons on the phone.

XM202 Fan

February 14th, 2011
4:01 pm

I listen to the Opie & Anthony show on XM/Sirius regularly, broadcast from New York, and they bring to attention a lot how Bloomberg & New York City are attempting to tax the sh*t out of New Yorkers.

(Health-food laws, down town issues, much more).

Bloomberg stinks, and I wouldn’t use New York City’s case as a credible example of enacting such policies.

Coming from a more sane area/town/city, maybe.

Glad I don’t live there!!

[...] the original: Should New York call in bill collectors for owed lunch money? | Mom… Related Posts:New York Times: School Lunch Found to Be a Childhood Obesity Risk … The New [...]


February 14th, 2011
4:44 pm

Our system found when they started giving overdue students PB&J sandwhiches and a piece of fruit that the parents, almost without a single exception, paid off. They did it for a year. Now they have quit that, and by November we were $17,000 in the hole. I don’t think you have to refuse to feed the kids; just give them a cheese or PB sandwich, and watch the kids “collect” for you. Children can be more persuasive than bill collectors, and much cheaper!

There is NO EXCUSE, with FRPL and the extreme ease of applying and receiving, that there be ANY money owed. Parents can just do the right thing, or let their kids have the same lunch every day until they can afford to provide for their child.

I also think until the lunch money is paid, all purchases from the school snack store should be redirected to pay the overdue money. I am SURE it would get taken care of very quickly. About half our free lunch kids have money just about every day for a treat.

One more thing: Our school lunches are very cheap–$1.75. The lunch program was audited and has been told we have to increase the paid lunch prices a great deal–to the rate the federal government pays for free lunch–over $2.50 per day. Right now the free lunch kids (or the taxpayers) are supporting the paying lunch students.


February 14th, 2011
4:52 pm

Oh, I wouldn’t count on DFACs. It is nearly impossible to get them to do anything for the very most serious problems–I don’t think “lack of lunch money” would be on their radar. Our lunch program sends written reminders, but they are largely ignored. Like I say, PB&J for a week or two works wonders, especially when the child watches his classmates chowing down. Problem, largely, taken care of.

Cynthia M

February 14th, 2011
4:52 pm

People’s sense of entitlement just never ceases to amaze me. They truly do not care that someone somewhere along the line has to pick up the tab. Good luck to NYC on collecting from deadbeats that don’t relaize their responsibility to feed their own children. America’s welfare system has helped create this huge financial drain. People truly do appreciate something more if they have to work to get it. Socialism stinks, in case Obama has not noticed.


February 14th, 2011
4:52 pm

I understand giving kids something in elementary & maybe even MS (sandwich, banana and a milk) but if they have more than 2 charged lunches on file, they shouldn’t get anything more and definitely nothing in HS. Half of them are probably using the money in the vending machines all the while knowing that no one is ever going to make their parents pay.

We weren’t allowed to charge in HS. MS & Elementary you could charge 1 day but no more. If you forgot money again then you just bummed off friends and ate what they didn’t want.

Most school systems have automated phone systems and email systems so no one would have to sit around and call. Just like many of us get calls when our kid is absent from school, they should get a call when a lunch is charged warning that no more lunches can be charged until their account it current.


February 14th, 2011
4:54 pm

But notice NYC is looking at high school students’ lunches.

Georgia needs to have uniform rules, and taxpayer money needs to be conserved!


February 14th, 2011
6:49 pm

At my school the children can charge twice, after that they get a cheese sandwich and milk. You’d be surprised at how quickly that money comes in when the children go home and fuss at mom and dad about not sending lunch money. They hate the cheese sandwich and milk (no choice on drink when they owe money) but it’s not like they’re going to starve that day.


February 14th, 2011
6:51 pm

Techmom…we got a call from our kid’s HS last month on the automated thing…neither of my kids are in HS. It caught me by surprise!

Field trips…that one hits home for me. When mine were in school, I sent in $5 if they needed $3…to cover those who did not pay. Entitlement mentality is that every child attends…even if they do not pay. Some schools have cut my visits from the program since so many kids are not paying:
$1….hello? Oh well, I have picked up new folks in other areas.


February 14th, 2011
7:04 pm

Seven Million? My word, that’s a crazy amount. I don’t know enough to weigh in on this but I have several thoughts. My parents had no extra money and I paid for my own lunch or brought something out of the cupboard. HOt lunch is EXPENSIVE… food from home usually much cheaper. I used my babysitting money… and I had a job in a dunkin donuts at 15 and used that cash for needs. This leads me to… if a HIGH SCHOOL student doesn’t get money from mom/dad then they are old enough to know to use their own money. They are old enough to know that not paying is exactly that: NOT PAYING! So, in some sense, it is probably the kids who “owe” the seven million. Again, we are talking about High School kids… KIDS that absolutely ought to have a part time job. My bet is that these kids dont want to pack the peanut butter and jelly from mom’s cupboard and just keep taking the free hot lunch bc no one is saying “NO” to them.

My next thought is about the parents.. HOW do you not give your kids money for lunch? I hope I am right in assuming that these parents are expecting their kids to take food from home. (If a parent is so poor that they cannot manage even this, then we do have legitimate food programs they can apply for.)

I think I will read up on this… it piques my interest and I want to know more.

Mom of older kids

February 14th, 2011
7:25 pm

My highschooler knows that all he has to do is TELL me that he needs money on his account. He always has cash to cover when he forgets. The deal is you forget to tell me…you pay if you want to eat ( your allowance, chore money) and no paybacks from mom. I consider it the “late charge” on your account.

Feeding children is up to the parents. Maybe the school system should get out of the business of feeding kids. Eat breakfast at home and a sandwich for lunch. That’s what I get most days.


February 14th, 2011
8:09 pm


Why was it necessary to call out ‘braids’ in the list of descriptors for families that have their priorities mixed up? I didn’t see pageboys, blowouts, layered cuts, etc in the list.

Just sayin’…


February 14th, 2011
9:19 pm

TCH- I included braids on the list because I’ve heard my students saying they can cost as much as 200-300 dollars to get put in professionally. I’ve never heard of a layer cut costing much. Maybe in New York though….

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February 14th, 2011
9:21 pm

*meant to say “that much”


February 14th, 2011
11:00 pm

@catlady-sounds like a great plan to me! Whining kids are fantastic motivators! Seriously, cheese or PB&J until parents pony up.

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February 15th, 2011
8:01 am

marie…many of my kid’s college peers do not have jobs…give it up on HS. Yes, my own kids have jobs. I worked at Wal Mart and paid for my own lunch in HS…not my parents. I made $2.25 per hour.
Lunch was less than a dollar back then. My parents had money but that was simply the way it was!

Active Duty Mom

February 15th, 2011
8:23 am

Catlady, I like your approach! A peanut butter sandwich, piece of fresh fruit, and a carton of milk should be all that is served for someone who did not bring lunch money and is relatively inexpensive compared to covering a hot lunch. From what you described, it sounds as though it worked, but then was discontinued. Why was it discontinued? I’m curious.


February 15th, 2011
5:06 pm

Active Duty Mom: it was discontinued because it was “too much trouble” to separate out the kids who had not brought money. They would go through the line, take a hot lunch, and then get to the cashier to find that….they were not supposed to get the hot lunch. And they were not allowed to put the food back once the kid had touched it. (Apparently branding the kids was out of the question). I think it should be MADE to work. Give the teachers a list of the PBJ kids to be directed into another line unless they can show they have the $. Far better than these stupid charges that get “eaten” by the school systems. A few years ago it was about $100,000 by the end of the year! We don’t have money for heating the hallways, but we can waste money on this? What are we teaching the kids? Why are we positively reinforcing the parents’ sense of irresponsible behavior? As they found out in some big city, when they cut out allowing the “window washers”/panhandlers to inhabit the intersections, when you take care of small things, the bigger things frequently are solved as well.

And, &%$#@& it, it WORKED!