Lawyers for a nutrition lobby have won another round in their continuing battle with the Agriculture Department over regulations of feeding programs for children.
U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt issued a preliminary injunction last week blocking regulations that Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) attorneys claimed would force sponsors, and thus youngsters, out of the child-care food program.
As part of the $277 million-a-year program, the federal government pays for food and administrative costs to serve more than 200,000 children in day-care homes.
The regulations issued in January proposed paring sponsors' actual administrative costs 10 percent to save about $1.8 million. Agriculture officials said last year's budget reconciliation act mandated the cut. FRAC and sponsors of the legislation said Congress didn't intend that drastic a cut.
Although the amount of money at stake isn't huge, FRAC argued that the reduced administrative reimbursement would force sponsors who supply food to home day-care centers to drop out of the program.
An Agriculture Department official familiar with the case said it is likely the government will appeal the ruling. He also noted that recent USDA studies have shown that the majority of recipients of food at the 40,000 home day-care centers around the country aren't needy.
Kathleen A. McKee, a FRAC lawyer, said sponsors haven't dropped out of the program yet because of the lower reimbursement rates in effect before Pratt's decision. She disputed the contention children in the home day-care centers don't need the meals. "Their parents can't feed their kids three meals a day. One sponsor said the children are 'lean and mean' when they come in on Monday because they are only getting one meal a day on the weekend. . . . They're not being fed."