MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KKCO) - More than 16 million kids across the U.S. receive free or reduced priced meals at school but concerns have risen that some families in Mesa County, and throughout the country, could be taking advantage of the program.
Nearly half of the 21,000 students in District 51 take advantage of free or reduced price breakfast and lunch.
“Going out and visiting schools and seeing that some of these high free and reduced schools, seeing the kids coming through, you really see the need,” says District 51 Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp.
The program is funded by more than $2 million in federal tax money. But one local mother says it's easy for parents to take advantage of the program.
“My third grader has been put on program three years in row by my ex–husband. And he shouldn't be on there, he doesn't live there. He doesn't qualify. I've had to call for three years now to get him removed,” says mother Myranda Hunter.
Parents self–declare their salary on the application form. But about 97 percent of those incomes aren't verified.
“The law requires that the school district take a sample of three percent of the applications that have been received,” says Jean Daniel with USDA Food and Nutrition Services.
Those families must submit pay stubs or other proof that they make as little as they claim.
“I can't imagine how many are taking advantage of this if only three percent are being checked. That's stealing our federal funds that could be going to other things,” says Hunter.
“On a national basis, we periodically hear stories where people are not declaring their entire income,” says Daniel.
Sharp says District 51 investigates any claims of dishonesty.
But in the meantime, taxpayers are left to wonder how many fraudulent cases go unreported.
Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent nationally each year on the USDA’s free or lower–priced school lunch program.