Audit: USDA Spent $12.5 Million on Free Lunches For Ineligible Households

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spent more than $12 million on free and reduced price lunches for children who were ineligible for the program because they were not from low-income families.

An audit released Monday by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found abuse in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), including school districts using cafeteria funds to buy SUVs.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which administers the federal school lunch and breakfast programs, does not require households to provide income information, leading to hundreds of thousands of ineligible children receiving free lunches.

More than half of the OIG’s sample of households approved for benefits were ineligible.

“Nationwide, [school food authorities] SFAs must annually verify eligibility for a sample of household applications approved for free and reduced-price meal benefits,” the audit said. “During [school year] SY 2012-2013, as a result of the annual verification process, SFAs reduced or eliminated benefits for 107,974 of the 199,464 sampled households nationwide (about 54 percent) because the income claimed on the applications was unsupported or excessive.”