Playing by the Rules

Breaking the rules can lead to huge penalties.

We hate to break this to you, but you do not get to collect a big pile of money when you land on Free Parking. If you consult the official rules, that space is just a resting place upon which you sometimes land. The problem is that someone wanted to make the space more exciting, so they deemed that fees should go into a pot that one collects when one comes to sit on this otherwise boring spot. It’s against the rules and usually prolongs an already lengthy game.

When it comes to school food service management, there are a lot of rules and regulations. For example, the Eligibility Manual for School Meals, dated July 2017, has 133 pages of information. That’s a lot of things someone must know. Unlike breaking a rule for a board game, ignoring a regulation for application processing can bring serious consequences, such as loss of reimbursements and financial penalties.

We recently learned that at least two vendors were touting automatic approval of applications as a feature of their respective products. Imagine the time savings! How did we miss that? Sounds great, right? Well, it’s not allowed according to the USDA, and the companies in question are misguiding customers about Federal regulations.

Current requirements are that two people check each application in a manual system. If a computer system is used, then one person needs to verify the determinations made by the software. You cannot let software alone approve or deny an application.

A call to our regional USDA office, which in turn contacted the Federal office, confirmed that automatic determinations solely made by a computer are not allowed. They never have been and still are not.

It didn’t take long for State authorities to be informed about the issue. Now, lots of already busy people will be doing extra work thanks to a couple of software companies that didn’t follow USDA regulations; and if problems are found, financial penalties could be incurred, not by the companies, but by their users.

New players in food service management software often don’t have the vital experience and knowledge they need to do things correctly. Their lack of understanding of the many rules, regulations, laws, and compliance issues can result in huge headaches for users that blindly trusted them. The aforementioned Eligibility Manual states that the burden to ensure that software is compliant rests with the Local Education Authority, so great care needs to be taken when evaluating programs.

Meal Magic Corporation have been involved in school food service management for more than 30 years. We strive to keep abreast of regulations, guidelines, and policy memos to ensure that our software follows all rules. When there are questions, we contact State or Federal authorities for clarification. We want things to be compliant so your job is easier when you use our products.