The USDA's Food, Nutrition & Consumer Services (FNCS) division has announced the results of a nationwide assessment of improper payments in school meals programs, along with several steps designed to sustain progress in reducing school meal program errors. As part of the efforts, USDA says it will provide $8.5 million in grants to improve schools’ operational and oversight efforts in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
In addition, a new rule is being proposed to help states better target resources to districts at highest risk of improper payments. The combined efforts are designed to decrease administrative errors and waste while streamlining the certification process for school meal programs.
“Reducing errors in our school meal programs is a top priority for USDA,” said FNCS Under Secretary Kevin Concannon in a statement accompanying the announcement. “The data show that we are moving in the right direction, and the efforts announced today will help schools continue to reduce errors in the school meal programs. By focusing on program efficiencies, we protect taxpayer dollars and ensure the school meal programs remain available to the millions of children who rely on them.”
As part of this initiative, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has developed a study series titled "Access, Participation, Eligibility and Certification" to collect nationally-representative data from schools and school food authorities every five years. This study estimates improper payment rates and amounts in three key areas: aggregation, certification, and meal claiming errors.
Concurrent with the present announcement, USDA released the second iteration of that study, which shows that while the overall level of program error remains "unacceptably high," there have been notable areas of improvement. For example, the overall error rate has been reduced, with significant declines in the frequency of aggregation errors, from 3.8 percent to 0.8 percent in the National School Lunch Program and from 6.0 percent to 1.2 percent in the School Breakfast Program.
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