Federal government to fine schools for violating lunch nutrition guidelines

© Mike Blake
The US Department of Agriculture wants to crack down on schools that don’t comply with nutritional guidelines for lunches championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, threatening fines and punishments.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service issued the proposed rule on Monday, and it is intended to codify several provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The law sets federal standards for nutrition schools across the country. It was enacted by President Barack Obama in 2010, and promoted by his wife Michelle as part of her program against childhood obesity.

While there were already provisions in place to punish schools that break rules, the government has not been able to enforce them easily. A West Virginia preschool teacher was threatened with fines for giving students candy for good behavior in June 2015, according to the Washington Free Beacon. The teacher ended up not having to pay, but the school had to develop a “corrective action plan” to bring it in line with federal policies.

Such fines would be enforceable if the USDA’s proposed rule goes forward, but it anticipates that violators would only be punished in “instances of severe mismanagement of a program, disregard for a program requirement of which the program operator has been informed, or failure to correct repeated violations.”

“These criteria suggest that violations that would result in assessments would be egregious or persistent in nature, remaining unresolved after the normal monitoring and oversight activities have failed to secure corrective action,” the proposed regulation states.

The proposed rule would be intended to improve “the integrity of all Child Nutrition Programs.”

For the first violation, schools or school systems would be fined 1 percent of the total amount that they were reimbursed for lunches. Second violations would result in fines of 5 percent, and ten percent for the third time and beyond.

If a state’s entire school system is deemed to have broken the rules, the fines could theoretically add up to millions of dollars.

Private organizations that take part in child care nutrition programs ‒ such as “institutions, sites, sponsors, day care centers, and day care providers” ‒ would also fall under the jurisdiction of the new rule.

Enforcing the proposed rule would cost the states an estimated $4.3 million in 2017 in new administrative expenses.