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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, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA. 

Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.), should contact the Agency (State or local) where they applied for benefits. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.  Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English.

To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, (AD-3027) found online at: http://www.ascr.usda.gov/complaint_filing_cust.html, and at any USDA office, or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter 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;

(2)     fax: (202) 690-7442; or

(3)     email: program.intake@usda.gov.

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Los demás programas de asistencia nutricional del FNS, las agencias estatales y locales, y sus beneficiarios secundarios, deben publicar el siguiente Aviso de No Discriminación:

De conformidad con la Ley Federal de Derechos Civiles y los reglamentos y políticas de derechos civiles del Departamento de Agricultura de los EE. UU. (USDA, por sus siglas en ingles), se prohíbe que el USDA, sus agencias, oficinas, empleados e instituciones que participan o administran programas del USDA discriminen sobre la base de raza, color, nacionalidad, sexo, discapacidad, edad, o en represalia o venganza por actividades previas de derechos civiles en algún programa o actividad realizados o financiados por el USDA.

Las personas con discapacidades que necesiten medios alternativos para la comunicación de la información del programa (por ejemplo, sistema Braille, letras grandes, cintas de audio, lenguaje de seas americano, etc.), deben ponerse en contacto con la agencia (estatal o local) en la que solicitaron los beneficios. Las personas sordas, con dificultades de audición o discapacidades del habla pueden comunicarse con el USDA por medio del Federal Relay Service [Servicio Federal de Retransmisión] al (800) 877-8339. Además, la información del programa se puede proporcionar en otros idiomas.

Para presentar una denuncia de discriminación, complete el Formulario de Denuncia de Discriminación del Programa del USDA, (AD-3027) que está disponible en linea en:http://www.ocio.usda.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2012/Spanish_Form_508_Compliant_6_8_12_0.pdf. y en cualquier oficina del USDA, o bien escriba una carta dirigida al USDA e incluya en la carta toda la información solicitada en el formulario. Para solicitar una copia del formulario de denuncia, llame al (866) 632-9992. Haga llegar su formulario lleno o carta al USDA por:

(1)     correo: U.S. Department of Agriculture
         Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
         1400 Independence Avenue, SW
         Washington, D.C. 20250-9410;

(2)     fax: (202) 690-7442; o

(3)     correo electrónicoprogram.intake@usda.gov.

Esta institución es un proveedor que ofrece igualdad de oportunidades.

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