Duration of Income Eligibility Determinations: Guidance and Q&As
|DATE:||October 31, 2014|
|POLICY MEMO:||SFSP 01-2015, CACFP 01-2015|
|SUBJECT:||Duration of Income Eligibility Determinations: Guidance and Q&As|
Special Nutrition Programs
Child Nutrition Programs
This memorandum provides guidance and clarification regarding individual income eligibility determinations and durations in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This memorandum discusses the duration of eligibility, change in household income, and the elimination of temporary approval in CACFP and SFSP as well as establishing claiming percentages in CACFP. This memo supersedes CACFP 07-2014, SFSP 12-2014, Guidance on Income Eligibility Determinations and Durations issued Jan. 16, 2014, and revises guidance related to the income eligibility effective date. Attachment A includes answers to frequently asked questions.
In accordance with 7 CFR 226.23(f), CACFP institutions must collect and report to state agencies free, reduced-price, and paid meal eligibility information. Such information must be updated annually and may not be more than 12 months old. Income eligibility forms should be considered current and valid until the last day of the month in which the form was dated one year earlier.
CACFP institutions have flexibility concerning the effective date of certification for Program benefits. For the purposes of non-school institutions, the date to be used to make this determination may be either the date the parent or guardian signed the income eligibility form or the date on which the sponsor or independent center official signs the form to certify eligibility of the participant. However, if the date of parent signature is not within the month of certification or the immediately preceding month, the effective date must be the date of certification. Please note, the date of submission by the parent or guardian is not required to be recorded on the income eligibility form.
This flexibility applies only to eligibility determinations made based on complete applications containing all required information (see part 3C of the Eligibility Manual for School Meals available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/EliMan.pdf).
These provisions also apply to the determination of eligibility for free meals under the SFSP when individual children’s eligibility must be established by sponsors in accordance with 7 CFR 225.15(f).
Schools participating in CACFP and SFSP have the flexibility of using either the income eligibility form submission date as the effective date of eligibility or the date on which the school official signs the form to certify eligibility of the participant. To maintain consistency throughout all Child Nutrition Programs, schools may not use date of parent or guardian signature as that flexibility is not available to National School Lunch Program operators. Schools and school sponsors should refer to SP 11-2014, CACFP 06-2014, SFSP 11-2014, Effective Date of Free or Reduced Price Meal Eligibility Determinations, Dec. 3, 2013 [http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/SP11_CACFP06_SFSP11-2014os.pdf] for additional guidance.
CACFP institutions and SFSP sponsors must decide which date they will rely on as the effective date and apply this date to all income eligibility forms submitted on behalf of all participants.
Change in Income
The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (PL 108-265) modified requirements related to reporting changes in income during the period of eligibility covered by the application. Households are not required to report changes in circumstances, such as an increase in income, a decrease in household size, or when the household is no longer certified eligible for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Therefore, once a household is approved for free or reduced price or tier I benefits, the household remains eligible for those benefits for a period not to exceed 12 months, regardless of any change in household income.
Elimination of Temporary Approval
The final rule, “Applying for Free and Reduced Price Meals in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program and for Benefits in the Special Milk Program,” eliminated the practice of temporary approvals for free or reduced price meal benefits (76 FR 66849, Oct. 28, 2011). The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 extended the eligibility period in the NSLP to 12 months, eliminating the use of temporary approvals. Because income guidelines for determining eligibility in CACFP and SFSP must align with those of the NSLP, this provision also applies to CACFP and SFSP.
Previously, temporary approval was encouraged when the need for assistance seemed short-term, such as when a household experienced a temporary reduction in income or when no income was reported. Year-long eligibility did not apply when a household was given temporary approval. At the end of the temporary approval period, determining officials re-evaluated the household’s situation. Now, all approvals are for an entire year. Year-long eligibility includes households that report no income on their income eligibility forms.
Establishing Claiming Percentage
In accordance with 7 CFR 226.9(b)(2), state agencies must establish claiming percentages, no less frequently than annually, on the basis of enrolled participants eligible for free or reduced price meals. During any month in which a claiming percentage is being established, because an income eligibility form is valid until the last day of the month that it was originally dated, any income eligibility forms expiring that month should be included in determining that claiming percentage. The claiming percentage may then still remain valid for up to 12 months. Claiming percentages are intended to capture the number of eligible children at a facility during one period of time. Including all currently valid income eligibility forms, regardless of when they expire within that month, is consistent with this intent.
State agencies are reminded to distribute this information to Program operators immediately. Program operators should direct any questions regarding this memorandum to the appropriate state agency. State agency contact information is available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Contacts/StateDirectory.htm. State agencies should direct questions to the appropriate FNS regional office.
Policy and Program Development Division
Child Nutrition Programs
The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.