Over 1,000 IL Schools Joined Federal Free Meal Program This Year

More than 14,000 high-poverty schools nationwide -- including over 1,000 in Illinois -- adopted a new federal program this academic year aimed at improving access to free meals for students, according to a new analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, enables qualifying high-poverty schools to serve no-cost breakfast and lunches to all students. The program, designed to make school meal operations more efficient and help reduce hunger, eliminates the need for schools to collect household applications to determine which students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals.

Community eligibility, which began as a pilot program in 11 states, including Illinois, became an option for qualifying schools nationwide this academic year. Illinois was among three states, allong with Kentucky and Michigan, to roll out community eligibility in some schools in the 2011-2012 academic year.

"Community eligibility not only reduces redundant paperwork at high-poverty schools but also makes possible huge gains in meeting vulnerable children's nutritional needs by providing them with a healthy breakfast and lunch at school each day," CPBB's report reads. "Reliable access to healthy meals, in turn, better prepares students to learn. The popularity of community eligibility in its first year of nationwide implementation speaks to schools' desire to improve access to healthy meals while reducing red tape, as well as to the option's sound design."

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Durbin Calls For Reforms To Solitary Confinement In Prisons

new review of restrictive housing programs used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons makes the case for "meaningful" reforms to solitary confinement practices, says U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).

"The fact remains that the United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world," the senator said in a statement Friday, when the independent report on U.S. prison segregation policies, conducted by CNA Analysis and Solutions, was released.  

"The findings and recommendations of this report provide further evidence that we must fundamentally reform our approach to solitary confinement," Durbin added.

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Report: 1 Million Poor U.S. Adults Could See SNAP Benefits Cut Next Year

Approximately 1 million poor U.S. adults could lose their food-aid benefits next year via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, according to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

The loss of benefits stems from a three-month limit on SNAP benefits for jobless, able-bodied adults without dependents. The provision dictates that no person can have SNAP benefits for more than three months over a three-year period. That rule has been waived in most states in recent years due to high unemployment rates. But the provision is expected to be reinstated in many areas during the 2016 federal fiscal year as the economy continues to improve.

The return of the three-month restriction means non-disabled, childless adults aged 18 to 50 who are not employed or participating in job-related programs for 20 hours or more a week will see their SNAP benefits end "after three months regardless of how hard they are looking for work," the report says.

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Garcia Gears Up For Battle Against Emanuel, 'Special Interests' In April Runoff (VIDEO)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and top challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia are set to go head-to-head in an April runoff contest.

Emanuel, who had a massive fundraising edge over his four challengers, fell short of the 50 percent plus one he needed to win Tuesday's mayoral election outright.

"No one thought we'd be here tonight," Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, told a packed room of supporters at the West Loop's Alhambra Palace Restaurant at about 9:45 p.m. "They wrote us off. They said we didn't have a chance. They said we didn't have any money, while they spent millions attacking us. Well, we're still standing. We're still running. We're going to win."

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Election 2015: An Update From Chicago's 24th, 36th Wards

Michael Scott Jr., one of ten candidates running for Chicago's open 24th Ward seat, was the favorite choice among some West Side voters who hit the polls on Election Day.

The 24th Ward, which covers parts of Douglas Park, Homan Square, Lawndale and other neighborhoods, is currently represented by Ald. Michael Chandler, who is retiring. 

Those competing to replace Chandler include Frank Bass, who runs a lobbying firm; businesswoman Vetress Boyce; LaDarius Curtis, who serves on the board of the West Side-based social services organization Goodcity; post office employee Sherita Ann Harris; former Chicago Bulls player Wallace "Mickey" Johnson; Regina Lewis, founder and CEO of Ashunti Residential Management Systems Inc., a West Side drug abuse and addiction treatment center; 24th Ward Committeeman for the Cook County Republican Party Larry Nelson; Michael Scott Jr., Chicago Park District manager for the central region; insurance agent Darren Tillis; and Chicago police officer Roger Washington, who is also an ordained pastor.

Lawndale resident Claude Woods, 63, voted earlier today at Faith Community Baptist Church, 3456 W. Flournoy St.

Woods said he supported Scott, who is the son of the late Chicago public schools chief Michael W. Scott, in part because he "has committed to the quality and restoration and preservation of this city." The voter also cited public safety and neighborhood development as two top issues driving him to the polls.

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