Statewide Audit Indicates Significant Fraud In Free School Lunch Program
According to audits the Indiana Department of Education recently detailed for lawmakers, an estimated one-third of Indiana students receiving free- or reduced-price lunches do not actually qualify for the federal program.
Julie Suttion, Indiana Department of Education Director of School and Community Nutrition, noted that 47.5 percent of students currently receive the discounted breakfast and lunch during the school year. That number has increased, she said, since lawmakers changed the formula that determines school funding to give more to schools with higher numbers of free- and reduced-lunch students.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the funding for the school meal program, but state taxpayers provide the revenue used for the school funding formula.
To qualify, families of students must provide a list of household members’ work earnings on an application, but are not required to provide documentation.
School corporations such as Spencer-Owen are required to audit three-percent of those who receive the benefit, but cannot audit any additional recipients per the guidelines.
Locally, Spencer-Owen Community Schools (S-OCS) Assistant Food Service Coordinator Sarah Bohr recently explained that the corporation’s verification process takes place each October. For the 2012-2013 school year, approximately 51 percent of S-OCS students qualified to receive free- and reduced-lunch.
“The software we use randomly generates three percent of applications that we are required to verify. Those households are sent a letter, along with a list of documents that are acceptable for use in verification. They may either mail the documents to me, or bring them to central office,” Bohr told the Spencer Evening World via email. “They are removed from the program if they do not respond or their documentation does not match what is on their application. Last year, out of the applications that were chosen, I received proper documentation from each household. None of the students were removed from the program.”
As noted by Bohr, Indiana school corporations must audit three percent of the families of free- or reduced-price meal recipients. The Department of Education, according to Suttion, found that 33 percent of those audited statewide do not meet the eligibility requirements and are therefore committing fraud.
When school corporations find students who are receiving the meals but do not qualify, they take those students off the program. If families later wish to reapply, they must provide documentation.
Each school lunch costs approximately $2.50, and students who qualify can receive meals for all 180 days of the school year.
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