Feds want to fine schools failing to follow first lady’s lunch menus

By Cheryl Chumley

Schools could soon be fined for failing to uphold Michelle Obama's school lunch menu desires.
Schools could soon be fined for failing to uphold Michelle Obama’s school lunch menu desires.

The federal government is pressing for a new authority to fine schools that don’t abide lunch menu rules pushed by Michelle Obama.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service proposed a rule that would amend portions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that came to fruition as the first lady’s pet project.

Schools for years have complained about the waste of food, and money, from following the provisions; students, meanwhile, and particularly student-athletes, have complained the menu items aren’t filling.

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Specifically, the rule would grant the feds authority to fine schools that display “egregious or persistent disregard” for the sodium and calorie limits contained within the act, as well as for the bans on white grains, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

The form of punishment is not a new idea.

As the news outlet reported, a West Virginia preschool teacher was threatened with fines when she gave out candy to students as a good behavior reward in mid-2015. The teacher didn’t end up having to pay, but school officials meanwhile were told to create a “corrective action plan” that included new training on the healthy eating policy.

But such scenarios could become commonplace if the feds have their way and codify the fine measure into law.

Section 303 of the healthy eating act allows for federal authorities to “establish criteria for the imposition of fines” for Agriculture Department food programs for children – and it may not be long before the punitive measure moves into law.

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The proposed rule references this section, and reads in part, the Washington Free Beacon states: “Under section 303, the secretary or a state agency may establish an assessment against any school food authority or school administering the child nutrition programs if the secretary or the state agency determines that the school or school food authority failed to correct severe mismanagement of any program, failed to correct repeated violations of program requirements, or disregarded a requirement of which they have been informed.”

Feds say the fines would only be affixed to those public facilities that are guilty of repeated menu infractions.

“The department anticipates assessments would be established only on rare occasions in securing corrective action,” the proposed regulation stated, citing Food and Nutrition Service remarks.

But the “assessments,” meaning fines, could prove substantial.

The Washington Free Beacon reports: “The agency said the fines would amount to 1 percent of the total amount the school was reimbursed for lunches for the first fine. A second fine would equal up to 5 percent of the total meal reimbursements, and 10 percent for a third or subsequent fine.”

If Alabama, for instance, which received nearly $211 million in cash payments for school lunches in 2015, were forced to pay a 1 percent fine, the amount in punishment would surpass $2 million. A 10 percent fine would mean $21 million, the news outlet reported.

The Food and Nutrition Service said the fines were “intended to improve the integrity” of the school lunch menu program and would also apply to private organizations that receive federal dollars for kids’ food.

The rule, once published in the Federal Register, will be given a 60-day public comment period.


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