A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Red tape with federal programs hinders Kentucky school nutrition directors’ ability to feed kids

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Red tape and other hurdles are getting in the way, especially for those children who aren’t getting nutritious meals at home, the people in charge of keeping kids fed in Kentucky schools said.

Leah Feagin, Nutrition Director at Mayfield Independent Schools, said administrative burdens and differing guidelines for federal programs have left her with mounds of paperwork, including having to provide attendance rosters in order to feed kids after-school snacks and supper, which she says is time-consuming.

(NKyTribune file)

“Why are we having to jump through all these hoops when, if I’m doing this for breakfast and lunch, I’m obviously going to do this for snack and supper? I’m not going to do it a different way,” Feagin said.

Groups fighting childhood hunger rallied this week at the State Capitol in Frankfort for state policies that would give schools more flexibility to offer meals to kids, boost safety-net programs like SNAP and WIC, and expand the state’s Farms to Food Banks program.

Cassidy Wheeler, advocacy coordinator at Feeding Kentucky, pointed out because pandemic-era “free meals for all kids” policies have ended, not all students qualify for school meals, leaving the school districts with lower reimbursement rates.

“Their budgets are really suffering, you know,” Wheeler said. “They’re having a really hard time being able to serve nutritious meals that meet all of the USDA standards, because they just don’t have the money for it.”

Feagin said many children come to school in the morning on an empty stomach, go without lunch, and added those kids will remain hungry unless they eat at school.

“My problem is those parents that aren’t sending food for their kids. So, if I quit offering the program, I know those kids are being missed – and that’s hard to contend with,” Feagin said.

Nationwide, almost 1.5 million children regularly received an after-school supper through Afterschool Nutrition Programs, according to 2020 data from the Food Research and Action Center.

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