Introduction

All schools participating in the federally assisted National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Program must make free and reduced price meals available to all eligible children. All schools and institutions participating in the free milk option of the Special Milk Program must make free milk available to eligible children. No person shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under the Child Nutrition Programs [7 CFR 15.1].

The State Education Department annually issues this free and reduced price policy booklet to all SFAs to assist in the correct implementation of these program requirements.

The 2021-2022 free and reduced price policy booklet consists of:

  • the Policy Statement;
  • information regarding the approval of household applications;
  • direct certification information;
  • the income eligibility guidelines as issued by the United States Department of Agriculture:
  • prototype public release;
  • free and reduced price meal applications and instructions in English and Spanish;
  • prototype parent letters regarding school meals, food substitutions for children with disabilities, and disclosure.

SFAs must have new certification documentation on file within the first 30 operating days of the school year. This applies to all schools, even those whose school year begins in July. Carryover of previous year’s eligibility from direct certification, categorical eligible and income applications is for up to 30 operating days of the new school year.

We recommend you immediately conduct the Direct Certification Matching Process (DCMP), then begin contacting families as soon as possible to obtain current eligibility data to ensure access to all children who qualify.  This would also assist you in your efforts to provide information on free and reduced price eligible students on the Basic Educational Data System (BEDS) report in early October. As you are probably aware, BEDS data is used for a variety of funding formulas that will affect your school and community.

Record Retention

All eligibility determinations, including Direct Certification Matching Process (DCMP) lists, migrant/homeless lists, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and household applications, must be retained for three years plus the current year. If this documentation is lost, misplaced, damaged, etc., the SFA could lose reimbursement for free and reduced price meals. In addition, all SFA records and Program documentation must be kept on file for a period of 3 years after submission of the final claim for reimbursement for the fiscal year to which they pertain.  However, if audit findings have not been resolved the records shall be retained beyond the 3 year period as long as required for resolution of the issues raised by the audit.  Please be advised that these records must be readily retrievable or immediately available upon request.

Policy Statement

The Policy Statement sets forth the conditions that must be followed for the SFA to maintain participation in the Breakfast, Lunch, or Special Milk Programs and must be officially adopted each year. Completion of the Certification of Acceptance (Attachments III or IV) acknowledges the SFA's adoption of this Policy Statement. The SFA must keep this signed Policy Statement on file with all Child Nutrition Program documents. The Policy Statement can be found here. 

SFAs operating Provision 2 and/or the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), must amend the Policy Statement to include the requirements of operating a Special Provision Option (SPO). The amendment must be officially adopted along with the Policy Statement each year.

Certification of Acceptance

The Certification of Acceptance form must be completed annually (Attachment III or IV) and maintained on file for three years plus the current year. The Certification of Acceptance must be completed each year on the Child Nutrition Management System (CNMS) as part of the annual renewal process. The Certification of Acceptance requires the SFA to indicate the SFA’s reviewing official, verification official and hearing official. Submission of the Certification of Acceptance through the annual renewal process acknowledges the SFA’s adoption of the Policy Statement.

Disclosure

The information provided by families on the free and reduced price application should be used only for determining eligibility for meal or milk benefits and verification of eligibility. SFAs that plan to disclose children’s eligibility status for purposes other than determining and verifying free or reduced price eligibility must inform households of this potential disclosure. In some cases, the SFA must obtain consent of a parent or guardian prior to the disclosure. SFAs should refer to the Disclosure Chart.

For more information on the requirements for the disclosure of confidential student eligibility information, see Section 9(b)(6) of the NSLA, 42 U.S.C.1758(b)(6), regulations found at 7 CFR Part 245.6, and also memorandum, SP 16-2016, CACFP 06-2016, SFSP 10-2016: Disclosure Requirements for the Child Nutrition Programs, https://www.fns.usda.gov/disclosure-requirements-child-nutrition-programs-0  and guidance noted in Section 5 Confidentiality and Disclosure of the 2017 Edition of the Eligibility Manual for School Meals, Determining and Verifying Eligibility, found at https://www.fns.usda.gov/eligibility-manual-school-meals.

Common Errors

Use the prototype forms and letters enclosed on the attachments tab to avoid many of these errors.

  • Inappropriate outdated application forms: All SFAs should use New York State’s current English or Spanish application.  For school year 2021-2022, the applications can be found on the Attachments tab . If applications are made available on the school website, be sure to update with the new applications and parent letters each year.
  • Inappropriate headings: The free/reduced price application must include the proper heading which indicates its purpose.  It cannot be labeled as a “reduced fee” application for alternate purposes if it establishes eligibility for free/reduced price meals.
  • Parent letter not included or wrong income scale used: Parents must receive together, the Free and Reduced Price Meal application and the required parent letter (Attachment VII) that includes only the reduced price income eligibility scale.  Parent letters incorrectly containing both income eligibility scales (excluding Special Milk, which requires only the free income eligibility scale), only the free income eligibility scale, or no income eligibility scale jeopardize free and reduced reimbursement to your SFA.
  • Public announcement errors: Many schools fail to send the public announcement each year to the informational media (local newspaper), the local unemployment office, and any major employers contemplating large layoffs in the area. The required income eligibility scales are included in the prototype public announcement (Attachment II).  Please note that this public announcement may not be published on the school’s website.
  • School website issues: Applications on the school website are not kept current each year. Be sure the website is updated with the current application and the current parent letter.  The public announcement which includes both the free and reduced price income eligibility scales may never be posted on the website or in the news feed.

It is essential that you understand there will be no exceptions to these policies.  SFAs that are not in compliance could find their applications for free and reduced price meals disallowed and may incur additional printing, dissemination and approval costs to bring their programs into compliance.

Ensure everyone connected with the application process for free and reduced price meals is fully aware to ensure compliance with all required policies. 

Recent Updates

USDA Nondiscrimination Statement

The USDA Nondiscrimination Statement was recently updated by USDA. The updated statement must be used on all Child Nutrition Program materials, including websites, pamphlets, brochures and all correspondence sent to families for program purposes and must include all spacing as it appears in the link below. Please be sure to update the USDA Nondiscrimination Statement on all your Child Nutrition Program materials.

The updated USDA Nondiscrimination Statement can be found here: USDA Nondiscrimination Statement | Child Nutrition | NYSED.

2021-2022 School Year USDA Waiver Flexibilities

The New York State Education Department (SED) has elected the use of the Nationwide waiver flexibilities provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for school year 2021-2022. School Food Authorities (SFAs) may elect to use the waivers, as applicable. These waiver extensions are expected to facilitate streamlined access to nutritious meals and snacks, while minimizing potential exposure to COVID-19. You can find more information here: SY21-22 Waiver Flexibilities

Please contact your Child Nutrition representative if you have any questions. Please continue to check the CNKC website as additional USDA information and guidance is forthcoming.

Increase in Reimbursement for Reduced-Price Meals

The New York State budget includes additional funding to pay the student cost of 25 cents for breakfast and lunch meals and 15 cents for snacks served in the Afterschool Snack Program that was otherwise charged to students approved eligible to receive reduced-price meals.

Beginning July 1, 2019, students approved for reduced price meals must receive reimbursable breakfast and lunch meals at no charge. New York State funding will provide an additional .25 cents in state reimbursement for each breakfast and lunch meal served to a reduced-price student to cover the cost previously paid by the student.

SFAs must continue to certify students as eligible for reduced-price meals and must continue to claim meals served to students approved for reduced price meals in the reduced-price category. Although these students will receive their breakfast and lunch meals at no charge, they should not be claimed in the free reimbursement category when placing claims for reimbursement. The free & reduced price policy letters and attachments have been updated to reflect this change.

SFAs should refer to the memo "Increase in State Reimbursement for Reduced-Price Meals" for additional information. Please contact the Child Nutrition Program Office at cn@nysed.gov or 518-473-8781 if you have any questions.

Direct Certification Matching Process (DCMP)

The DCMP process must now be completed through the NYSED Business Application Portal available on the NYSED website at https://portal.nysed.gov/abp.  More information on Direct Certification can be found further in this booklet and on the Child Nutrition Knowledge Center (CNKC) website.

 

Meal Charge Policy

Beginning with school year 2017-2018, School Food Authorities (SFAs) in New York State are required to have a written and clearly communicated policy to address student meal charges when payment cannot be collected at the point of service.  Charge policies should be reasonable, well-defined and maintain the integrity and dignity of students and households to minimize harm to the student.

Prohibition Against Meal Shaming Plan

Beginning with school year 2018-2019, all public, non-public, and charter School Food Authorities (SFAs) in New York State that require students to pay for a school breakfast and/or lunch meal must develop a written plan to ensure that a student whose parent or guardian has unpaid meal charges is not shamed or treated differently than a student whose parent or guardian does not have unpaid school meal charges. New York State legislation now requires SFAs to provide students with the reimbursable meal of their choice and specifically identifies other prohibited actions to decrease student distress or the embarrassment associated with not having adequate funds to pay for a school meal. The new State plan has several of the same or similar requirements as the federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Unpaid Meal Charge policy that took effect July 1, 2017.  SFAs may opt to amend this policy to include the new State criteria or can develop a separate State specific plan.  SED has also created a template plan that SFAs can use to meet both the State and federal requirements.  SFAs should refer to the memo titled “New York State Legislation – Prohibition Against Meal Shaming” for additional information and guidance.

Flexibility in Determining the Effective Date for Children receiving free or reduced price benefits
School Breakfast Program (SBP) Outreach

SFAs participating in the School Breakfast Program must actively promote and perform outreach activities to increase awareness of the School Breakfast Program and increase participation. Efforts should be documented and kept on file with Program records for three years plus the current school year.

Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Outreach

SFAs participating in the School Breakfast Program and/or National School Lunch Programs must notify families of locations that operate the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) prior to the end of the school year. SFAs should provide the toll free number for families to call (1-866-3-HUNGRY, 1-877-3-HAMBRE or text ‘FOOD’ or “COMIDA’ to 877-877) to find a location that operates the SFSP and direct families to the Child Nutrition Knowledge Center (CNKC) website. Families located in NYC can also dial 211 or 311.  Efforts should be documented and kept on file with Program records for three years plus the current school year.

Zero Income

Applications where the family has reported zero (0) income must be given free meal benefits for the entire school year from the time the application was received and approved. Any income field left blank is a positive indication of no income and certifies there is no income to report.

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)

Schools where at least 40 percent of enrolled students have been deemed free eligible through a means other than an income application (i.e., directly certified using electronic SNAP or Medicaid data, homeless, migrant, runaway, foster, and head start) as of April 1st each year may apply to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision.  The schools will receive reimbursement in the free and paid category based on the percentage of directly certified students as noted above times a multiplier (as written in federal regulation, currently 1.6).

Due to the unanticipated public health emergency as a result of COVID-19, SFAs electing CEP in the 2021-2022 School Year may calculate their Identified Student Percentage (ISP) using data from July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021. Additionally, the deadline to apply to participate in the CEP has been extended to September 30, 2021.  For more details about participation and how to apply, please see the CEP Memo.

“And Justice for All” Posters

The “And Justice for All” posters have been revised by the USDA and are available to all School Food Authorities and Summer Food Service Program Sponsors participating in the federal Child Nutrition Programs. Please replace and display this revised “And Justice for All” poster immediately.

Click here to preview the updated poster: https://www.ascr.usda.gov/sites/default/files/JFAgreen508.pdf.

If you need to order posters to display, please complete the Resource Order Form.

The “And Justice for All” posters are required to be posted in highly visible locations in all Child Nutrition Program service areas including cafeterias, classrooms and in the vicinity of or on reimbursable meal vending machines if they are placed in areas other than the cafeteria. 

Civil Rights Requirements and Annual Training

SFAs participating in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs are required to collect data of all potential participants with regard to race and ethnicity specifically.  The data already being collected as a requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act may also be used for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The civil rights compliance report form is available on the CNKC website detailing the specific annual requirements.

Annual Civil Rights training must be provided by the SFA for all staff, including front line cafeteria staff who interact directly with program applicants and participants.  A Power Point presentation is available on the Child Nutrition Knowledge Center (CNKC) website for staff training.  A record of the annual training, including a sign-in sheet, the date, location, and who provided the training, must be kept for three years plus the current year. LEAs must comply with all Civil Rights and non-discrimination requirements in Subpart A and FNS Instruction 113-1. Please see the memo “Child Nutrition Program Civil Rights Requirements” for more information.

Change in Authorizing Signature

There is no federal requirement that describes who must sign Child Nutrition Program documents.  The Child Nutrition Program regulations specify that an official of the SFA make written application to the state agency for any school in which it desires to operate the program.  The SFA means the governing body responsible for the administration of one or more schools and the legal authority to operate Child Nutrition Programs.

The signature of the district clerk, as well as an officer of the board of education, such as president or vice president, is accepted for the forms.

The board of education may delegate the chief administrative officer to act as its agent with regard to entering into contracts and agreements for the Child Nutrition Programs.  This policy will not permit the chief administrative officer’s signature in lieu of board action, but will permit the chief administrative officer to sign, in all respects, after the board resolution.