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Officials at odds over meals program in New Mexico

- Associated Press - Friday, May 2, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Democratic members of New Mexico's congressional delegation say there's uncertainty about schools' continued ability to provide federally funded free meals for low-income students.

State officials in Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration say they don't believe eligible children will go without the free breakfasts and lunches next school year.

The Democratic delegation members contend in a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the uncertainty is a result of flaws in state-generated data on eligibility documentation, the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1iRTtSA ) reported.

Saying schools "have been hampered by the lack of necessary guidance, training or data," the Democrats' letter asks Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to intercede.

A USDA management evaluation for the 2012 fiscal year concluded that the Public Education Department's student nutrition program failed to require proper documentation of how some schools have determined eligibility for the USDA program.

In its review, the USDA found the state approved extensions beyond the allowable time and the federal agency concluded that socio-economic data used to determine continued eligibility was "insufficient or missing."

Deputy Secretary Paul Aguilar of the state Department of Public Education said the state has improved its paperwork process.

He also said he doesn't believe his agency has disseminated any flawed data or misinformation, and he said there shouldn't' be any major problem.

The USDA free meal program serves more than 77,000 children at approximately 350 schools.

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