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California Sues U.S. Over Applications For School Meals

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Sacramento--State Superintendent of Schools Wilson C. Riles and the Los Angeles Unified School District filed suit in federal district court here last week challenging the federal government's new law requiring the collection of Social Security numbers from all adults living in the household of a child who receives government-subsidized school lunches.

Their suit was the second filed here on the matter last week. An earlier suit against the new federal requirement was brought by a group of legal-assistance organizations on behalf of parents and a welfare-rights organization. Mr. Riles was named as a defendant in that suit because he administers the federal program at the state level. Also named was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture John Block.

Mr. Riles contends that Mr. Block has not properly implemented the law requiring the Social Security numbers. He argues in the suit that the state only received the directive for the program instead of specific regulations as required by the law. He also says that under the U.S. Privacy Act, the Department of Agriculture must explain how it will use the information.

Congress passed the law requiring the numbers last year, and the Department of Agriculture is in the process of implementing it. Although the deadline for filing the numbers with the federal government was April 14, California was given an extension until April 30 because of the Riles suit.

Speaking at a news conference last week, Mr. Riles said that 330,000 California children could lose their subsidized lunches under the program because their households' Social Security numbers had not been turned in as required.

Nearly one-half of the 346,000 students participating in the lunch program in Los Angeles live with someone who has not submitted his or her number, he said.

"This onerous and oppressive requirement raises serious civil-liberties questions about the involvement of Big Brother in the school-lunch program," Mr. Riles charged. "It is an established axiom of education," he added, "that hungry children cannot learn, certainly not well. I will not stand idly by while children are made the victims of a highly dubious federal directive. And I will not allow needy children to go hungry through no fault of their own."

Last month, California school districts were ordered by Mr. Riles to collect the Social Security numbers. But they were also told not to deny lunches to children whose households had not complied with the law.

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