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Unpaid Meal Tabs Cause Problems for Schools
posted by: Ruthie | February 13, 2014, 07:13 PM   

Thousands of students are offered free or reduced lunches based on federal guidelines. However,
recent incidences in Utah reveal a growing problem regarding unpaid meals tabs and how to prevent students from going hungry.

A cafeteria worker in Salt Lake City, Utah is under fire for withholding lunches from 32 students with unpaid meal tabs. While this is a common problem, many districts offer free peanut butter sandwiches to students who can’t pay, while others use online systems to keep accounts updated.

While Salt Lake City’s measures to remedy unpaid balances may seem extreme, the 23,500 student district currently bears the weight of roughly $15,000 outstanding lunch fees. Across the country, many schools carry the same debt and schools are struggling to establish practical procedures for students in debt.

“There’s so little information for the decision makers to look at when trying to decide how to manage the problem in their own districts,” said Diane L. Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 student-nutrition professionals. “We think it would be a great benefit if the USDA provided some guidance on how to respond to kids in a compassionate manner.”

Federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 mandates a yearly report detailing the feasibility of setting a national policy for unpaid meal tickets. This year it will require the USDA to review state and district-level policies on extending credit or providing alternative meals to students with unpaid meal tabs.

The USDA’s existing guidance on unpaid meals defers to local districts and adds that schools are not obligated to provide meals to children with overdrawn accounts.

Do you think schools should be required to provide students with meals?  What does your school do? 

Comment below.


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