A rule was proposed on this week by the US Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service to organize and codify the system regulations of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
New regulations would be written to penalize through the use of fines those schools that are exhibiting "egregious or persistent disregard" for the lunch mandates concerning sodium and calorie limits and the banning of white grains.
The Washington Free Beacon's Elizabeth Harrington reports that a preschool teacher in West Virginia was singled out to be fined because she was rewarding her students' good behavior with candy in June 2015. Although the teacher did not have to pay the fine, the school was told to create a "corrective action plan" that included training on the policy's regulations.
Now the law's Section 303 requires that the federal government "establish criteria for the imposition of fines" for all child food programs.
"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," the proposed rule states.
Government officials made clear that fines would only be issued to schools, school food authorities, and any state agencies that have not been in compliance with the management of the program, that disregarded requirements that have been outlined, or have not corrected repeated breaches of the program's specifications.
The fines are the latest issue surrounding the healthful eating law advocated by Mrs. Obama in 2010. Over 1.4 million young people have stopped eating school lunches since the rules have been in place. Students have said that the food portions are too small and the food served is unappetizing.
The new measures have been blamed for causing cafeteria workers to lose their jobs, and there is even a black market that has been established by some children for salt to add flavor to the otherwise bland food.
The School Nutrition Association has released a report on the program and its effects. One school official said in the report that every group or club in his school has begun to sell all kinds of edibles. Classroom pizza parties are occurring everywhere and frequently. The intention of the of the program was positive, but, he added, the results have not been, writes Jack Davis of Western Journalism.
The new proposal has as its goal to improve "the integrity of all Child Nutrition Programs." The first offense by any institution would result in a fine of 1% of the total amount the school or school system was reimbursed for lunches.
If an entire school system is disregarding the rules, theoretically, the fines could amount to millions of dollars. The new measure would also apply to private organizations that participate in child care nutrition programs, including day care providers, institutions, sites, day care centers, and sponsors.
The administrative expenses to enforce the proposed new rule are estimated to be $4.3 million in 2017, writes Mike Blake, reporting for Reuters.