This White Paper examines whether any additional means-tested programs might be feasible for use in the direct certification of school-age children participating in school meals or for verification of household income on meal applications.
Under the Community Eligibility Provision, schools do not collect or process meal applications for free and reduced-price meals served in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Schools must serve all meals at no cost with any costs in excess of the federal reimbursement paid from non-federal sources.
To ensure program integrity, school districts must sample household applications certified for free or reduced-price meals, contact the households, and verify eligibility. This process (known as household verification) can be burdensome for both school officials and households. Direct verification uses information from certain other means-tested programs to verify eligibility without contacting applicants. Potential benefits include: less burden for households, less work for school officials, and fewer students with school meal benefits terminated because of nonresponse to verification requests.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program subsidizes nutritious meals and snacks served to participants in child care nationwide, providing different levels or “tiers” of meal reimbursement based on the income level of participating children, providers, and nearby geographic areas. Policymakers have long been concerned that programs such as CACFP are not as accessible to eligible children in rural areas as in urban areas.
The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 authorized a pilot to operate in rural Pennsylvania during the summers of 2005 and 2006. The purpose was to test whether lowering the site eligibility threshold from 50 percent to 40 percent would increase the number of children participating in the program.
Program errors and the risk of erroneous payments in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) continue to be a concern. Slightly more than one in five students were certified inaccurately or erroneously denied benefits in school year (SY) 2005-06. New data estimates the gross cost of school meals erroneous payments due to certification error at about $935 million while other operational errors represent about $860 million.
From July to September 2002, FNS reviewed the free and reduced price eligibility determination process (i.e., application, verification, reapplication, meal ticket status) for each of 3,474 applications selected for verification in 14 large school food authorities in the 2001-02 school year. These SFAs enroll nearly one million children, among whom 45 percent were approved for free meals and 7 percent were approved for reduced price meals as of Oct. 31, 2001.