THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Office of P-20 Education Policy
We often receive questions from schools using electronic, scanned, and even paper applications asking if other additional information, which is not required to establish certification of eligibility for child nutrition programs (CNPs), may be requested of households when completing the application process.
The purpose of the application for free and reduced price school meals is to determine if a student’s household is eligible for school meal benefits based on income or categorical eligibility.
Allowing LEAs to obtain data for other purposes on the application for free and reduced price school meals is intended to provide a mechanism for LEAs to share information with households on the availability of other non-meal benefits and may reduce paperwork burden on households. An example of non-meal benefits includes items such as free school books or computers for students that are eligible for free or reduced price meals. If notice is provided to households with or on the application and written permission obtained, if necessary from parents or guardians, programs are permitted access to the otherwise confidential information for purposes which benefit the applicant household or student and do not create a barrier to CNP participation.
The CNP statutory and regulatory authorities codified in Section 9(b) (6) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, 42 USC 1758(b) (6), and 7 CFR 245.6(a) (1) are reflected in the Eligibility Manual for School Meals. As stated in this manual, “If schools or LEAs collect such information solely for non-NSLP, -SBP, or -SMP [Special Milk Program] purposes, the applications may not be labeled as applications for benefits under the school meals/milk programs or give any indication that such benefits are contingent upon a household returning the application.”
For example, LEAs may request applicants provide a student’s birth date on the application for free and reduced price school meals. Because this additional data does not create a barrier to CNP participation, and creates a possible benefit to the student by improving the chances a positive match can be made if chosen for verification with Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)thereby minimizing the burden of completing an additional form(s), an LEA may request this additional information on the application.
Since additional information as described above is not required by CNPs for a student’s certification of eligibility for free and reduce price school meals, an application, whether paper or electronic, must be considered complete even if the additional information is not provided. Some electronic versions of free and reduced price applications request a student’s birth date as a required field and failure to provide that additional information results in the application’s categorization as “incomplete” or blocks the completion of the application process. Those barriers to participation must be removed. Any electronic version of a free and reduced price application requiring additional data must be updated so that the software no longer requires the additional data.
An LEA may not request applicants provide information regarding citizenship. Citizenship information is not required for certification of eligibility to participate in the CNPs. Requesting such information does not provide a benefit to the applicant or household and creates a perceived barrier to participation.
We encourage schools to comply with this requirement as soon as possible. If LEAs have a system which requires this additional information they must have a method to ensure that applications which are categorized as “incomplete” or otherwise blocked for this reason may still be certified as eligible if all the required information has been provided.
Please contact our office with any question s concerning this memo.