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Nutrition, Health and Safety Logo

Office for Food and Nutrition Programs

At a Glance Guide to the Meal Benefit and Issuance Process

Eligibility Manual for School Meals

Process StepAction RequiredProcess Timeline
Permanent Free & Reduced Price Policy StatementUpdate as part of the annual renewal application or at any time the determining, confirming, or hearing official change.Renewal application or throughout the year if needed.
Student's Meal Benefit Eligibility CarryoverLEAs must carry over all student's approved eligibility from the last operating day of the previous school year. This applies to direct certification, categorical eligibility determinations and income based applications. The new eligibility determination will supersede the carryover eligibility once it is obtained from the household.This approval may be used for up to 30 operating days from the first day of school.
Direct CertificationAccess the Direct Certification list via the Security Portal on the ESE Website. This is a Federal mandate with the Food Stamp Program. Refer to the eligibility manual for complete instructions. Direct certification supersedes any application a household submits. Not required by RCCI's & private schools.Prior to beginning the meal benefit application process. Meal benefits must be provided promptly to children listed on the Direct Certification list.
Notification to Households Regarding Eligibility Established through Direct CertificationAll households that have children who are identified as eligible for benefits via direct certification must receive a letter notifying them of the meal benefit to be provided. Refer to the eligibility manual for the list of items that must be included in the notification letter. Prototype letter posted on ESE websiteFor each student household that is processed via direct certification.
Categorical Eligibility for Free Meal BenefitsDetermined on an individual basis. A child's receipt of categorical eligibility cannot be used to certify other children in the same household who are not considered to be members of that particular program's assistance unit or who are not participants themselves. Refer to the eligibility manual for directions on determining eligibility benefits for these students. Programs included are Food Stamps, FDPIR, TANF, Federal Head Start, Federal Even Start (pre-kindergarten level), Migrant, Runaway & Homeless Youths.Every time an application is submitted that has a possible categorically eligible child listed.
Homeless LiaisonContact district homeless liaison to receive list of all homeless and runaway students within the district.At beginning of application process and throughout the school year.
Meal Benefit Letter, Application, and Instruction TemplatesDownload forms, letters, and instructions from the ESE or USDA websites. Forms are available in an extensive array of languages on the USDA website.Prior to beginning the meal benefit application process.
Household Notification of Free and Reduced Price Meals AvailabilityCopy and distribute application packages in all required languages, to all student households no earlier than 4 calendar weeks prior to the start of school. Households cannot be required to complete and return the application.Must be after July 1 of each year, and no earlier than 4 calendar weeks prior to the start of school.
Citizenship & Legal StatusU.S. citizenship or immigration status is not a condition of eligibility for meal benefits. LEAs must apply the same eligibility criteria for citizens and non-citizens.Every time an application is processed.
Submitted Household ApplicationsCheck that applications are complete. Only completed applications may be processed. If an application is not complete, contact the household. Refer to eligibility manual for complete instructions on determining if a submitted application is complete.Every time an application is submitted.
Determine Eligibility of Submitted Complete ApplicationsDetermination must be performed by the determining official listed on the Free & Reduced Price Meals Policy that was submitted to ESE. Meal benefit eligibility determinations and implementation must be made within 10 working days of the receipt of the application. Edit check all applications. Eligibility determinations are valid for one year.Every time an application is submitted. Eligibility determinations and implementation must be made within 10 working days of the receipt of applications.
Confirming Benefit Eligibility Determinations Benefit issuance must be confirmed by the confirming official listed on the Free & Reduced Price Meals Policy that was submitted to ESE. All mathematical computations must be confirmed and corrected if required. Edit check all applications.Every time an application is submitted.
Computerized POS Systems May be used to determine or confirm but not both. The computerized system should be able to capture the original date of approval, the basis for the determination, and update the status of applications to account for all changes. Correct data entry of application is required. Edit check all data.Every time an application is submitted and processed by a POS system. Eligibility determinations and implementation must be made within 10 working days of the receipt of applications.
Determining Household CompositionBased on economic units. An economic unit is a group of related or unrelated individuals who are not residents of an institution or boarding house but who live as one economic unit, and share housing or significant income and expenses. More than one economic unit may reside together in the same house. Refer to the eligibility manual for more information.For all income applications that are submitted.
Special SituationsFoster children, adopted children, children residing in an institution, joint custody and other child/household arrangements and special situations. Refer to the eligibility manual for guidance on these and more special situations that may occur when determining eligibility.For any application that falls into a special situation category.
Determining Household IncomeRefer to the eligibility manual for the descriptions and lists of reportable income, current income, and income exclusions.For all income applications that are submitted.
Determining Income CalculationsUse the correct calculation when making determinations. Weekly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, monthly or annually. Any application with mixed income sources must be converted to an annual calculation to determine eligibility.Every time an application is submitted.
Household Notification of Benefit Eligibility All households must be notified of their eligibility status. Households with children that are denied benefits must be given written notification that includes the reason for denial, right to appeal, instructions on how to appeal, and a statement informing that they may re-apply at any time during the school year. Households with children who are approved for benefits may be notified with a letter or email. For each application that is processed.
Households that Fail to ApplyLEAs may complete an application for a child known to be eligible if the household fails to apply. The school official must complete an application on behalf of the household using the best household size and income information available. The source of the information must be noted on the application. These applications are excluded from the verification process. Households must be notified that the child or children have been certified to receive benefits.For limited use in individual situations. If warranted, school officials should consider providing temporary approval.
Temporary ApprovalApplies when a household will be experiencing changes in income or household size. Example for use would be when a family reports zero income or a reduction in income due to a job layoff or strike. Temporary approval is generally valid for 45 days or less if warranted. Refer to the eligibility manual for guidance on how to re-evaluate at the end of the 45 day period.Apply when a family reports a reduction in income or zero income at any time throughout the school year.
Benefit Eligibility Issuance ListA list of all children eligible for free and reduced price meals must be compiled by school site and maintained at each school. The LEA must ensure that any changes and transfers in and out of the school are accurately and promptly reflected on each school's list.Develop and distribute a list to each school site. Each list should only include the student's names and benefit level for children attending that site. Update continuely throughout the school year.
Verification of Meal Benefits RequirementEach LEA must annually verify income eligibility of children from a sample of household applications approved for free and reduced price meal benefits. Verification is not required for children who have been certified under direct certification, children who are documented as eligible migrant, runaway or homeless, or RCCI children who reside at the facility. Refer to eligibility manual for full directions on the complete verification process and other exceptions.As soon as there are approved applications on file for sample pool, or on/after October 1 for actual/final sample pool. Must be completed by November 15. LEA must then submit an online verification summary report to ESE no later than the first week in January.
Establishing a Verification Sample PoolLEAs may use a sample pool to start the process. Refer to the eligibility manual for further instructions on using a projected sample pool. The final sample pool must be conducted using all approved applications on file as of October 1 of each school year. Sample pool is based on the number of applications approved, not number of children eligible for meal benefits.Projected sample pool may begin as soon as there are approved applications on file. Final sample pool is chosen using the actual number of applications on file as of October 1.
Establishing a Verification Sample SizeNumber of approved applications to be verified. All fractions and decimals must be rounded upward to nearest whole number. At least one application must be verified. LEAs must not verify more or less than standard sample size, except when verifying for cause. As soon as the final sample pool is determined.
Standard Sample Size Selection (Basic Sample Size)The standard sample size is the lesser of - three(3) percent of all applications approved by LEA for the current school year, as of October 1. Must be drawn from error prone applications or 3,000 error prone applications approved by the LEA for the current school year as of October 1. Refer to the eligibility manual & FNS memo SP-9 dated 11/19/2004 for alternate sample size instructions and for information on completing the sample size.After sample size has been established.
Verification for CauseIs done in addition to the required verification sample size. Refer to the eligibility manual for complete instructions regarding verification for cause.When necessary during verification process and throughout the school year.
Household Selection NotificationAll households that are selected for verification must be notified of their selection. Please refer to eligibility manual for complete instructions for this process.After verification pools have been determined.
Household Notification of Adverse Action After VerificationHousehold benefits that will be reduced or terminated must be given 10 calendar days written advanced notice of the change. The first day is the day the notice is sent home. Refer to eligibility manual for list of what must be included in notice, which must include the right to appeal the determination.Ongoing throughout the verification process.
Household Notification of an Increase in Benefits After VerificationIf verification results in an increase in household benefits, this change is effective immediately and must be implemented no later than 3 operating days later. Parents must be notified in writing of the change in benefit status.Whenever verification results in an increase of benefits.
The Right to Appeal an Adverse ActionA household may appeal either the denial of benefits or the level of benefits for which they have been approved. When an appeal is requested, the LEA must follow the hearing procedures outlined in the Free and Reduced Price Policy Statement that was filed with ESE. The hearing official must be an individual who was not connected to the approval or verification process and must be listed on the policy statement on file with ESE.Whenever an appeal is requested by a household.
Benefits During an AppealRefer to the eligibility manual for instructions on how to calculate the availability of benefits during and following the appeal process.Whenever an appeal is requested by a household.
Transferring Eligibility between LEAsWhen a student transfers to another district, the new LEA may accept the eligibility determination from the student's former LEA. No liability will be incurred regarding the accuracy of the transferring determination. The new LEA should review the application for mathematical accuracy. If an error has occurred, the household must be notified to submit a new application.Whenever a student or students transfer to another LEA.
Confidentiality and Disclosure of Eligibility InformationAll information obtained by the LEA is considered confidential. Procedures are established for limited disclosure of information. Refer to the eligibility manual for complete guidance. This information is located throughout the manual.For all documentation involving the meal benefit issuance process.


Last Updated: July 17, 2009
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