To establish that a household meets income eligibility requirements for benefits, reviewing officials must compare the household size and the total household income to the applicable Income Eligibility Guidelines.
Only complete applications can be approved for meal benefits. Applications missing required information must be denied if the missing information cannot be obtained. To be considered complete, an application must include the required information. The SFA should make reasonable efforts to contact the household to obtain or clarify required information. All contact with families regarding eligibility can and should be documented on the application.
A complete income application must provide:
- Names of all household members;
- Amount, source, and frequency of current income for each household member;
- Signature of an adult household member; and
- Last four digits of the social security number of the household’s primary wage earner or another adult household member, or an indication that the household member does not have one.
If an application lacks how frequently income is received (e.g., weekly, monthly, etc.), the reviewing official should make reasonable efforts to contact the household to clarify the frequency of income. If the SFA is unable to reach the family, the SFA will process the income as weekly.
*Note: Applications cannot be approved for temporary free or temporary reduced price benefits. There is no temporary eligibility.
Households must report current income on a free and reduced price application. See the USDA Eligibility Manual for School Meals for additional information on reportable income.
- Income is any money (before deductions), received on a recurring basis, including earnings, pensions, and child or spousal support, unless an income source is specifically excluded by law for the Child Nutrition Programs.
- Gross earned income means all money earned before deductions such as income taxes, employee’s Social Security taxes, insurance premiums, and bonds.
- Current income means the gross income received by a household, before deductions, for the current month, or the amount projected for the first month for which the application is filled out, or for the month prior to application. If this income is higher or lower than usual and does not fairly or accurately represent the household’s actual circumstances, the household may, in conjunction with determining officials, project its annual rate of income. USDA does not set any specific requirements regarding the frequency (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) at which household income is reported on an application. While in most cases earners report income on a more frequent basis, there is no prohibition against annual income reporting. For more information, see: SP 19-2017: Reporting Annual Income on School Meal Applications, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/reporting-annual-income-school-meal-applications.
Each household must provide the total amount of current gross income. The application must identify the source of the income earned by adults or children as applicable, and the adult or child who received it (such as wages or Social Security) [7 CFR 245.6(a)(5)(i) and 245.6(a)(5)(ii)].
Applications where the family has reported zero (0) income must be given free meal benefits from the point of approval, through the end of the school year. These families must also be provided free benefits for the first 30 operating days of the next school year (or until a new application is received for the next school year, whichever comes first). Any income field left blank is a positive indication of no income and certifies there is no income to report.
Many households have different sources of income at different frequencies, such as weekly or bi-weekly (every two weeks) wages and/or monthly social security benefits.
Use the following procedures:
- If a household has only one income source, or if all sources are the same frequency, do not use conversion factors. Compare the income or the sum of the incomes to the published Income Eligibility Guidelines for the appropriate frequency and household size to make the eligibility determination.
- If a household reports income sources at more than one frequency, the acceptable method is to convert all income to an annual amount by multiplying weekly income by 52, income received every two weeks by 26, income received twice per month by 24 and income received monthly by 12. Do not round the values resulting from each conversion. Add all the un-rounded converted values and compare the un-rounded total to the published Income Eligibility Guidelines for annual income for the appropriate household size.
*Note: School districts must ensure that software they are using does not convert all income to monthly. Software should only convert to annual income when there are multiple income frequencies. The software should not round up each frequency calculation before totaling.
Income excluded from the determination of a household’s eligibility for free and reduced price meal benefits includes the following:
- Any cash income or value of benefits excluded by statute, such as the value of benefits under SNAP or FDPIR and some Federal educational benefits;
- Payments received from a foster care agency or court for the care of foster children;
- Student financial assistance provided for the costs of attendance at an educational institution, such as grants and scholarships awarded to meet educational expenses and not available to pay for meals;
- Loans, such as bank loans, since these funds are only temporarily available and must be repaid; and
- Infrequent earnings received on an irregular basis, such as payment for occasional baby-sitting or yard work.
Also see the USDA Eligibility Manual for School Meals for additional information.