School Meal Programs: Improved Reviews, Federal Guidance, and Data Collection Needed to Address Counting and Claiming Errors

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-09-814, September 9, 2009

From the summary:
In fiscal year 2008, the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program provided meals to 30.9 million and 10.5 million children, respectively. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued the first estimate of improper payments due to meal counting and claiming errors in these programs, which was approximately $860 million (8.6 percent of federal program reimbursements) in school year 2005-2006. These errors include: (1) cashier errors, such as those made in determining if a meal meets the federal menu planning and nutrition requirements (meal counting), and (2) aggregation errors made when officials count and total meals for federal reimbursement (meal claiming). GAO was asked to review (1) actions taken by states and school food authorities (SFA) to identify and address meal counting and claiming errors; and (2) actions taken by USDA to help states and SFAs identify and address meal counting and claiming errors. GAO’s steps included analyzing data on state administrative reviews of SFAs; surveying all states; conducting site visits; and interviewing federal, state, and SFA officials.

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