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USDA: Few schools have dropped meals program


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* RCCI (Residential Child Care Institutions) — Homes for children with disabilities, unmarried mothers and their infants, group homes, orphanages, temporary shelters for abused and runaway children, long-term care facilities for chronically ill children, and juvenile detention center. (SOURCE: USDA
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Janey Thornton

Janey Thornton
Only 524 schools and institutions out of almost 100,000 have dropped out of the national school meals program, and of those only 146 cited the new healthier meal requirement as the reason, the Agriculture Department’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service announced today.

"We recently surveyed states and schools across the country, and the vast majority of schools — 80 percent — have already reported that they are meeting the updated meal standards successfully, with some states reporting 100 percent of schools completely transitioned to the new standards. We expect the remaining schools to ‘make it official’ soon, too,” said Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Janey Thornton in a blog post today.

Some Republican House members have said that the meal requirements under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act are difficult for schools to meet, that children are going hungry because they do not get enough food or because they refuse the eat the fruits and vegetables and other food offerings under the new rules.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee subcommittee in charge of nutrition, have led criticism of the new school meals program, but no school food authority in Kansas or Iowa has dropped out of the program, according to the data state governments have submitted to USDA.

The highest dropout rates have been in Guam and Hawaii, where more than 2 percent of schools dropped out, and in Maryland where 1.45 percent dropped out.

Thornton said the survey showed that only a very small percentage — 0.15 percent of schools — have cited difficulty complying with the new standards as a reason for leaving the program.

“While we encourage the very few eligible school districts that have chosen not to participate in the school meals program to take steps to ensure all children will still have access to healthy, affordable meals during the school day, it is clear that the vast majority of schools and parents think that the new meals are working,” Thornton said.