Albany -- The U.S. Government estimates that more than a fourth of all children who eat free or discounted school lunches are not entitled to them. The U.S.D.A. is considering new rules to require proof of income.
Nearly 70 percent of all Dougherty County students receive free or discounted school lunches, but administrators say they check for fraud. Kindergartners at Sherwood Acres are served hot dogs, cole slaw, beans, and trail mix for lunch.
But watchdog groups worry nearly 25 percent of the 7 billion dollars spent last year on school lunch programs go to kids not eligible. But Dougherty County administrators say random checks prevent fraud locally.
Child Nutrition Coordinator Stan McWhorter said "October of each year we verify a certain percentage of those individuals. Takes about a 60 day period to get that back. Based on previous year's percentages, we don't have a large number of individuals who show that they had flagrant discrepancies."
Children in a family of four with an income of less than 23 thousand 530 dollars a year qualify for free lunch. In Dougherty County Schools, 60 percent of all student receive free lunch. Families with an income less than 33 thousand 485 dollars a year qualify for reduced price meals. 9 percent of Dougherty County schools students qualify, paying 40 cents a day for lunch. All students are eligible for free breakfast. Federal and state education funding is tied to the number of free and reduced price lunches served in local school systems. So administrators closely monitor the program.
McWhorter said "I feel it's well worth the effort that's spent. We receive no funds from the local tax base. Our funds are federal. And we certainly administer them in the expeditious manner so that it is beneficial to the program."
If a student's family does not respond to the random income inquiries, that student's lunch privileges can be withdrawn. The Dougherty County School lunch program budget is 8 million dollars.
Full price lunches in Dougherty County elementary schools cost one dollar a day. In Middle and High School full price lunch is one dollar and 25 cents.
Reduced price lunches for all students is 40 cents a day.