Omnibus provides one-year reprieve on meal rules |

Omnibus provides one-year reprieve on meal rules

The omnibus appropriations bill directs the Agriculture Department to grant waivers for the 2014-15 school year to any school district that certifies it cannot operate a school food service program without increased costs to comply with the interim final rule for the school lunch and breakfast programs Under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The report of the bill directs Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to establish a waiver process within 90 days of enactment and to provide technical assistance to help with implementation in future years. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act changed meal pattern requirements to make them healthier and provided 6 cents per meal more in federal reimbursement if the schools improve their food offerings, but schools say the new meals are more expensive to provide.

The Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service has noted, however, in a statement of regulatory impact that 86 percent of school food authorities nationwide submitted certification materials for the new meal patterns as of the end of October, and that by the end of September, 80 percent had been certified.

The omnibus report also noted that Congress continues to be concerned about high error and improper payment rates in the school lunch and breakfast programs.

The report notes that for fiscal year 2013, the national school lunch program had an error rate of 15.69 percent, totaling $1.8 billion in improper payments, and the school breakfast program had an error rate of 25.26 percent totaling $831 million in improper payments.

The agreement provides the requested funding to support efforts to reduce erroneous payments and directs USDA to work with states and local educational agencies and submit a plan to the Appropriations committees within 60 days of enactment, detailing the steps it will take to reduce high error and improper payment rates.

The report also directs USDA to provide sufficient guidance and training so states can ensure all approved child and adult-care feeding sites that provide at-risk, after-school snacks and suppers are in full compliance with the eligibility requirements for participating in the program. F

–The Hagstrom Report