This collection is a reinstatement, with change, of a previously approved collection for which approval has expired (OMB Number 0584-0530, discontinued: 10/31/2020); for the fourth Access, Participation, Eligibility, and Certification study series (APEC IV).
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) depends upon the APEC study series to provide reliable, national estimates of errors and improper payments made to school districts in which the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program are operated. This is the fourth study in the APEC series and it will provide the required information for school year (SY) 2023-2024.
Program errors fall into three broad categories: Certification (determining the eligibility of a student for a given level of reimbursement), aggregation (adding up all the meal counts by reimbursement category as they are transmitted through the claims process), and meal claiming (ensuring that meals claimed meet the meal pattern requirements). Certification and aggregation errors contribute to improper payments, while meal claiming error is an operational error that does not result in an improper payment. The majority of improper payments in the programs result from certification errors, while aggregation errors are relatively rare.
The Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019 (PIIA) requires that FNS identify and reduce improper payments in these programs, including both underpayments and overpayments. In order to comply with the law, programs must have a statistically valid rate of improper payment below 10 percent, and programs out of compliance with PIIA are subject to increased scrutiny and reporting requirements.
Beyond statutory improper payment reporting requirements, FNS recognizes the human and economic costs of program error. For example, certification error may result in children being certified at a lower or higher level than the one for which they qualify; aggregation error may cause school districts to receive a lower or higher reimbursement than they should have received; and meal claiming error may result in a participant receiving a less balanced and nutritious meal than they would have if the meal pattern was followed.
Although the APEC II and the forthcoming APEC III findings show substantial improvement in certain types of error since APEC I, there is an ongoing need to identify and correct sources of program error.