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USDA allows schools more local control in nutrition programs

FT STAFF REPORT - news@ftimes.com

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Steve Censky has announced two new efforts to provide states and school districts with additional flexibility and support to operate more efficient school meal programs. Censky made the announcement during a speech at the School Nutrition Association Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

Child Nutrition Hiring Flexibility Rule: In 2015, USDA established education and training requirements for nutrition professionals as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. While this strengthened many school meal programs, some small school districts faced challenges finding qualified applicants to direct their local food service operation. Today’s proposal would provide much-needed relief for school districts with less than 2,500 students, allowing them more flexibility in the hiring of new school nutrition program directors.

USDA is providing a 60-day public comment period and will then develop a final rule that responds to the needs of partners and stakeholders.

Child Nutrition Food Crediting Request for Information: To support states’ efforts to improve program integrity, USDA also rolled out a suite of customizable resources to help local school districts improve the accuracy of their school meal application processes. These resources include support for online applications, evidenced-based materials, and best practices to simplify the process for families and ensure that eligible children receive free and reduced-priced meals.

USDA will help help schools utilize its award-winning, open-source online school meal application model developed with input from local food service professionals. The customer-friendly design of the model can helps reduce common mistakes families make when applying for free or reduced-priced school meals.

Other actions by the USDA include:

Publishing the School Meal Flexibility Rule and releasing a mobile app that provide local food service professionals the flexibility and critical information they need to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation.

Selecting Kansas State University to direct the Center for Food Safety in Child Nutrition Programs, which will help improve food safety across all of USDA’s child nutrition programs.

Inviting the public to submit ideas on food crediting, the system that defines how each food item contributes to meal requirements under the National School Lunch Program and other federal child nutrition programs.