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USDA modernizes oversight of child nutrition programs, including school meals

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/	SDI Productions
Source: Getty/ SDI Productions

Related tags school meals Usda

USDA is taking a less is more approach when it comes to ensuring school meals are properly administered and managed by backing off the frequency of reviews and streamlining monitoring requirements, according to a final rule on program integrity published last week.

According to the Child Nutrition Program Integrity final rule​ published in the Federal Register Aug. 23, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services and state agencies need only review school food authorities or schools administering Child Nutrition Program services every five years – rather than every three – unless problems requiring more immediate follow-up are uncovered.

USDA argues this change, which will go into effect July 1, 2024, along with other efforts to reduce redundancies, will “free up time and resources for state agencies to more effectively perform reviews, provide technical assistance and focus on program improvement.”

It adds the three year review cycle “is taxing for state agencies and SFAs and diverts resources from technical assistance and program improvement.”

Most stakeholders who commented on the proposed change agreed the shift would allow them to better balance resources and support schools, and they added a risk-based approach for identifying follow-up reviews would ensure sufficient oversight.

FNS will further lighten the administrative burden associated with audits by allowing state agencies with FNS approval to substitute information from local-level audits for related parts of the administrative review – effectively reducing unnecessary duplication of efforts without compromising program integrity.

Likewise, state agencies will be able to omit specific, redundant areas of administrative review who sufficient oversight is conducted elsewhere, according to the rule.

Some of the cost-savings associated with these changes will be earmarked to process improvements to reduce or eliminate program errors that are harder to identify with routine monitoring, according to the final rule.

Stakeholders’ reaction to this provision was mixed with many asking for additional clarification to which FNS agreed to develop additional guidance and process reforms.

Beyond adding flexibility to the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, the final rule also codifies provisions in the Child and Adult Care Food Programs to increase accountability, allow for more frequent oversight of CACFP participants and enhance enforcement capabilities of FNS and state agencies in the rare instances of severe and repeated violations.

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