USDA School Food Fines Set a Dangerous Precedent and Illustrates What Centralized Government Creates.
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The same blueprint for CCSSI is used in the food regulations for schools: as schools must align state educational policy and actions to the Federal regulations in ESSA, schools must align their food services to the USDA’s idea of what is appropriate to receive Federal dollars. The same ‘partnership’ states ‘enjoy’ with the Federal Government in the classroom extends to the state/Federal government’s involvement in the school cafeteria. From the Federal Register about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (aka known as Michelle Obama’s idea of healthy meals). However, note how the ‘nudge’ to serve ‘healthy’ meals has now become Federal agency punitive and not so much of a partnership:
This rule proposes to codify several provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 affecting the integrity of the Child Nutrition Programs, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Special Milk Program for Children, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and State Administrative Expense Funds. The Department is proposing to establish criteria for assessments against State agencies and program operators who jeopardize the integrity of any Child Nutrition Program; establish procedures for termination and disqualification of entities in the SFSP; modify State agency site review requirements in the CACFP; establish State liability for reimbursements incurred as a result of a State’s failure to conduct timely hearings in the CACFP; establish criteria for increased State audit funding for CACFP; establish procedures to prohibit the participation of entities or individuals terminated from any of the Child Nutrition Programs; establish serious deficiency and termination procedures for unaffiliated sponsored centers in the CACFP; eliminate cost-reimbursement food service management company contracts in the NSLP; and establish procurement training requirements for State agency and school food authority staff in the NSLP. In addition, this rulemaking would make several operational changes to improve oversight of an institution’s financial management and would also include several technical corrections to the regulations. The proposed rule is intended to improve the integrity of all Child Nutrition Programs.
This rule is replete with active verbs from the USDA via its administrative arm, The Food and Nutrition Service Agency:
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the USDA food assistance programs. These programs, which serve one in six Americans, represent our Nation’s commitment to the principle that no one in this country should fear hunger or experience want. They provide a Federal safety net to people in need. The goals of the programs are to provide needy persons with access to a more nutritious diet, to improve the eating habits of the Nation’s children, and to help America’s farmers by providing an outlet for distributing foods purchased under farmer assistance authorities.
The Service works in partnership with the States in all its programs. State and local agencies determine most administrative details regarding distribution of food benefits and eligibility of participants, and FNS provides commodities and funding for additional food and to cover administrative costs.
The USDA is informing state agencies, schools, state legislators and bureaucrats that it is not a partner, it is the final authority on food programs and a Federal agency sets the rules on state behavior. It wants to codify (arrange laws or rules into a systematic code) for states exactly what is demanded by the Federal government of the states to receive Federal money for lunch programs. Schools are also funded by state money for food programs but if the states do not meet the requirements set forth in this proposed rule, the Federal government can levy fines, aka as ‘assessments’, to the state which will have to incur even more spending from budgets which are already financially stretched to conform to existing educational Federal regulations. Any ‘assessment’ must be paid from non-Federal sources meaning a state agency’s budget (set by the legislature) or district’s budget (set by a school board) is meaningless. An example of how the Federal government is directing state budgets is illustrated in this sentence: establish procurement training requirements for State agency and school food authority staff in the NSLP. State agencies must provide the training that the Federal government requires for its minority financial monetary involvement in school lunch programs.
This is a dangerous precedent set by a Federal agency: if schools and/or states do not conform to Federal mandates, funding does not disappear immediately, rather, monetary fines are levied against districts and/or states (which come from local and/or state budgets) and must be paid to the Federal government for district/state ‘egregious’ behavior as defined by the Federal government.
Here’s more on this ‘nudging’ of the Federal Government which is quickly becoming a beating. These ‘assessments’ can be quite costly and could create local/state budget nightmares. From Feds to Fine Schools for Not Following Michelle Obama’s Lunch Rules:
Calling the fines an “assessment” against a school, 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.
The fines could be hefty if an entire state agency were flagged for persistent violations. For instance, Alabama received $210,937,195 in cash payments through the school lunch program in 2015. One percent would total $2.1 million. A 10 percent fine would cost $21 million.
The Food and Nutrition Service did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed rule, or how much the estimated fines would total.
The agency said in the proposed regulation that the fines are “intended to improve the integrity.”
The proposed rule would also apply to private organizations participating in federal childcare nutrition programs, including “institutions, sites, sponsors, day care centers, and day care providers.”
The agency said they would allow schools to appeal the fines “given the fiscal consequences of this provision.” The rule would also give the agency the authority to terminate any school’s participation in the National School Lunch Program if they do not pay the fines.
Does it concern state legislators, state educational agencies and school districts that they are possibly subject to fines if food mandates are not followed to the USDA’s regulations? Rather than jump through hoops and live under the threat of assessments and having to staff bureaucrats to be sure all the regulations are followed, legislatures, state agencies and schools should perform a fiscal study on how much money could be saved by not agreeing to ‘partner’ with the Federal Government in providing food to schools.
You can comment on this proposed rule and the overreach of the Federal Government: This document has a comment period that ends in 62 days (05/31/2016). You can read about what states are ‘allowed’ to do via USDA guidelines here.
States need to stop participating in Federal programs in which a Federal agency allots only a small portion of state funds back to the state and then dictates Federal policy to the states in operational and policy matters. Why should citizens/state legislators/bureaucrats trust federal bureaucrats/agencies to make better decisions for the states? The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has been a costly disaster for students, states and vendors. Why would any state want to continue a failed program with even more punitive measures? It’s like the CCSSI mandates: shackle the states so they aren’t allowed to deliver what the schools/states deem appropriate and coerce policy alignment to that which is deigned appropriate by federal government agency bureaucrats and NGOs. And better yet, the states/schools get to pay (via state/local money) to be held captive to these Federal mandates! What’s not to love about ‘partnering’ with the USDA?
Remember this clever and sad Kansas video from students impacted by this policy?
More reading on the lunch policy that has cost taxpayers $15 billion:
Read the comments on the above video. They primarily are from students and reflect what centralization of food standards have wrought. The only upside? Maybe they will become students who value freedom and liberties rather than endless rules and ‘assessments’ for not following the rules that don’t help them.
Comment on the Federal Register proposed rule here: Submit a formal comment