USDA Hosts Prize Challenge to Generate Innovative Ideas for Electronic, Error-Reducing Version of the School Meal Programs Application
Release No.
FNS Office of the Chief Communications Officer (703) 305-2281

WASHINGTON, Dece. 1, 2015 – As part of its commitment to protecting the integrity of the child nutrition programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) kicked off a prize challenge today to solicit innovative designs for an electronic school meals application.  The resulting electronic application is expected to help facilitate accurate completion and processing, thereby reducing improper payments and ensuring eligible low-income students receive free or reduced price meals.

“Over 70 percent of National School Lunch Program participants and nearly 85 percent of School Breakfast Program participants receive free or reduced-price meals. These students count on school meals as a vital part of their daily nutrition, and for many, the application is a key part of ensuring access,” said FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe.  “FNS is leveraging the challenge model to access a diverse group of innovators, problem solvers, and experienced programmers who can improve the application process and help shape the future of digital design in government.”

Beginning today and through March 1, 2016, any U.S. citizen or organization can submit prototypes of an electronic school meal application to the E.A.T. School Lunch UX Challenge.  The submissions will be used to develop a model electronic application, which states and school districts can adapt for their own use, or borrow its design elements and source code to improve existing electronic applications. A panel of judges will select the winning submissions, which will be awarded a total of $50,000 in cash prizes.  

This competition is held under the authority of the America COMPETES Act, which encourages government agencies to use prize challenges to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions.  USDA and other government agencies have engaged and benefited from prize challenges, such as the Tall Wood Building project.

In total, approximately 100,000 schools and institutions serve more than 30 million children each day through the National School Lunch Program and 13 million children through the School Breakfast Program.  Many of these children qualify to receive free or reduced price meals according to income-based eligibility.  While USDA promotes the use of direct certification – using pre-existing data from SNAP and other assistance programs to certify students for free meals – when possible, there are still many scenarios where it is necessary for families to submit an application.  Using an electronic application that provides prompts and feedback to the user during the application process could reduce reporting and calculation errors. 

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to NSLP and SBP, these programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Summer Food Service Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) which together comprise America's nutrition safety net.