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Application Processing

Applications must be reviewed in a timely manner. An eligibility determination must be made, the family notified of its status, and the status implemented within 10 operating days of the receipt of the application. Whenever possible, applications should be processed immediately, particularly for children who do not have approved applications on file from the previous year. Once an eligibility determination is made, households should be notified immediately.

A new eligibility determination that reduces benefits (e.g. free to reduced price) should be implemented only after the household has been notified.

Determining officials must record the eligibility determination as follows:

  •  Indicate approval date;
  •  Indicate the level of benefit for which each child is approved (if levels are different); and
  • Sign or initial and date the application.

The determining official must sign/initial and date each application, or sign/initial and date a cover sheet attached to a group of applications. A computer system can be used to capture the original date of approval, the basis for the determination (the household size and income used), and update the status of applications to account for transfers, withdrawals, terminations, and other changes. A notation should be made to an electronic file.

Duration of Eligibility

Once an eligibility determination is made, a child’s eligibility status remains in effect for one year. At the start of the subsequent school year, children retain their previous year’s eligibility status for 30 operating days or until a new determination is made, whichever comes first. Also see Carryover of Previous Year’s Eligibility section.

If no new application is submitted and eligibility is not established through direct certification by the end of the 30-day carryover period, eligibility for free or reduced price meals expires and the SFA must discontinue benefits for these children. The school or SFA is encouraged to provide households with a reminder notice that their free or reduced price meal benefits will end on a specified date if the household does not submit a new application or the school has not received notice that the child is eligible through Assistance Programs or is Other Source Categorically Eligible. The reminder notice also could include the cost of paid meals.

Flexibility in Determining the Effective Date for Children Receiving Free or Reduced Price Benefits

Applications

Children have generally been certified eligible for free or reduced price meal benefits on the date the household application is approved. However, SFAs have flexibility concerning the effective date of certification for Program benefits. If the SFA chooses, it could establish the date of submission of an application as the effective date of eligibility, rather than the date the official approves it. SFAs can use this flexibility when processing household income applications, as well as when waiting for documentation of other source categorical eligibility (e.g., for homeless or migrant children) indicated on a household application.

To use this flexibility when approving applications, SFAs must:

  • Notify their Child Nutrition Program Representative in writing
  • Exercise the flexibility for all students in all participating schools and Programs
  • Have a method to document the date the application was submitted, such as a date stamp
  • Refund any money paid by or on behalf of the child for a reimbursable meal or milk prior to the eligibility determination, including forgiving accrued debt.
Automated Data Matching Method

SFAs may consider the effective date of eligibility for free school meal or milk benefits to be the date the automated data matching file (or benefit recipient file from another agency) is made available to the SFA which first identifies the student as eligible for direct certification, rather than the date the SFA accesses and processes the automated data matching file into their local point of service (POS) system. To be used for this purpose, the data file must have been generated and received by the SFA in the current school year. 

Letter Method and Lists or Other Forms of Documentation

SFAs may consider the effective date of eligibility for free school meal or milk benefits to be the date the household or appropriate State or local agency submitted the letter, list or other form of documentation to the SFA, rather than the date the school official approves the documentation.

To use this flexibility, SFAs must:

  • Notify their Child Nutrition Program Representative in writing
  • Do so consistently for all the direct certification methods (i.e., automated data matching, and lists or other forms of documentation)
  • Apply the direct certification eligibility effective date flexibility consistently to all students directly certified across all participating schools and school meal programs within the SFA
  • Document the effective date used, such as a date stamp, to document the date lists or letters from other agencies were received, or the documented and traceable run date of automated match files or recipient benefit files from another appropriate agency
  • If categorical eligibility is based on SNAP, TANF or FDPIR, the extended eligibility provision in 7 CFR 245.6(b)(7) also applies

Please see the USDA Eligibility Manual for School Meals for more information.

Change in Household Circumstance

Once an eligibility determination is made, a child’s eligibility status remains in effect for one year. At the start of the subsequent school year, children retain their previous year’s eligibility status for 30 operating days or until a new determination is made, whichever comes first. A new eligibility determination can be made through the approval or denial of a new application or through direct certification. Temporary approval of eligibility is not permitted because of the year-long duration of eligibility.

Households are NOT required to report changes in income, household size, or changes with regard to participation in a program that makes the children categorically eligible.  Eligibility, once established, remains in effect for the entire school year.

However, households may voluntarily report a change. If a change is reported that will increase benefits, the SFA must put that change into effect.

Please see the USDA Eligibility Manual for School Meals for additional information.

Last updated
June 5, 2019

USDA Nondiscrimination Statement

In accordance with federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, this institution is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity.

Program information may be made available in languages other than English. Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication to obtain program information (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language), should contact the responsible state or local agency that administers the program or USDA’s TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TTY) or contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.

To file a program discrimination complaint, a Complainant should complete a Form AD-3027, USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form which can be obtained online at: https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/USDA-OASCR%20P-Complaint-Form-0508-0002-508-11-28-17Fax2Mail.pdf, from any USDA office, by calling (866) 632-9992, or by writing a letter addressed to USDA. The letter must contain the complainant’s name, address, telephone number, and a written description of the alleged discriminatory action in sufficient detail to inform the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (ASCR) about the nature and date of an alleged civil rights violation. The completed AD-3027 form or letter must be submitted to USDA by:

  1. mail:
    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
    1400 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, D.C. 20250-9410; or
  2. fax:
    (833) 256-1665 or (202) 690-7442; or
  3. email:
    program.intake@usda.gov

 

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Click here for Nondiscrimination Statement translations.

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