Near the beginning of each school year, the public must be notified that free and reduced price meals or free milk (if participating in the Special Milk Program) are available. This notice must include the eligibility criteria for free and reduced price meals or free milk.
The public announcement must be provided to the local news media, the unemployment office, and to any major employers who are contemplating large layoffs in the attendance area of the school. SFAs must keep a record on file for three years plus the current year identifying where the public release was sent.
*Note- the public announcement must contain both the free and reduced price income eligibility scales. The public announcement may not be sent directly to families and may not be posted on the school website.
In addition to the required notification at the beginning of the school year, SFAs are strongly encouraged to share information about the availability of school meals in routine contacts throughout the school year.
At the beginning of school, a parent letter must be distributed to the households of children attending the school. This letter informs families of the Child Nutrition Programs and that free or reduced price meals or free milk may be available to children. An application form and instructions must be included with the parent letter.
The parent letter and application must be sent to households of all school children before the beginning of the school year or as early as possible in the school year so that eligibility determinations may be made and free and reduced price benefits provided as soon as possible. SFAs should send out the letter no earlier than four calendar weeks prior to the first day of school. Normally this would be around August 1 in New York State for schools beginning in September. Letters cannot be sent home at the end of the school year (May/June) for the next year.
The letters may be distributed by the postal service, e-mailed to the parent or guardian, or included in an information packet provided to students.
If the SFA uses a computer or web-based system to process applications, the letter must inform the household how to access the system to apply for benefits. It must also explain how the household can obtain a paper application.
Households enrolling new students in an SFA after the start of the school year must be provided an information letter, application, and materials when they enroll, and the SFA must determine eligibility promptly.
*Note - the parent letter must only contain the reduced price income eligibility scale. Parent letters incorrectly containing both the free and reduced price income eligibility scales (excluding Special Milk, which requires only the free eligibility scale), only the free income eligibility scale, or no income eligibility scale jeopardize free and reduced reimbursement to your SFA.
SFAs must ensure that communication with applicants, participants, members of the public, and companions with disabilities are as effective as communications with people without disabilities through the provision of auxiliary aids and services, such as alternative formats, taped text, audio recordings, Brailed materials, large print and sign language interpreters [28 CFR 35.160].
SFAs also must take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by persons with Limited English Proficiency.
Once a school becomes aware of a language need, the school is responsible for ensuring the individual’s application and other household materials (letter, instructions, notices, and verification materials) are available in an understandable language. Simply offering the most common non-English language is not sufficient. SFAs may use the translated application materials available through FNS to ensure households comprised of SFA individuals have access to free and reduced price application materials in a language they can understand.
Additionally, in order to participate in the School Meal Programs, program operators must comply with the USDA regulation Non Discrimination on the Basis of Handicap in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance [7 CFR 15b]. This includes ensuring children with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the NSLP and SBP. For more detailed guidance about accommodating disabilities, please see issued SP 26-2017: Accommodating Disabilities in the School Meal Programs: Guidance and Questions and Answers (Q&As), https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/accommodating-disabilities-school-meal-programs-guidance-and-qas .