FREE SCHOOL MEALS EXPIRING JUNE 2022.
- The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 has enabled public schools across the nation to provide all students free meals since the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted K-12 education in March of 2020. The free school meal benefits will expire after the last school day of the 2021-2022 school year
What does this mean for families?
- In the fall of 2022, meals will return to paid-for status. Families will need to pay full price for student meals or fill out an application to qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
- USDA Guidance provided on May 16, 2022 “Students previously determined as free or reduced can be carried over for 30 school days.” The school must determine the most current eligibility based on direct certification or meal application from SY21-22 OR SY20-21 or even from SY19-20.
- Case by Case Scenarios:
- If a student was free in SY19-20 and never applied again, they are free for the first 30 school days or when a qualifying application is determined, whichever comes first.
- If a student was free in SY19-20 and then applied in SY20-21 or SY21-22 and was denied, the student will not have carryover eligibility based on the most current application.
- Students may also have carryover if they were on any Direct Certification lists and no unqualifying application since the Direct Certification.
- Remember that any student on a Direct Certification list will be free from the day the Direct Certification list is updated through the rest of the year.
Free and Reduced Price Meal Application Processing Reminders
All families must receive an application for free or reduced-price meals.
- Free and reduced-price meal applications for the 2022-2023 school year can be distributed, but cannot be approved until after July 1, 2022.
- The Letter to Households must accompany the application.
- The household must write their income information on the application form - the schools should not have to do this.
- A determination must be made within 10 days of receipt of an application.
- Children may be claimed based on last year’s eligibility for the first 30 operating days of the school year or until a new application is filed.
- All applicants must be notified of the determination. Denied applicants must be notified in writing.
Benefits Prior to Processing Applications
Before applications are processed for the school year, the local agency may claim and be reimbursed for free and reduced-price meals or snacks, or free milk for these students:
- Students from households with approved applications or Meal Benefit Notices on file from the previous year.
- Newly enrolled children from households with children approved for benefits the previous year.
- Previously approved children who transfer from one school to another under the jurisdiction of the same local agency. If the applications are not centrally maintained, both the sending and the receiving local agency must maintain a copy of the transferring student's application.
The above students must be allowed a 30-day carry-over of the previous eligibility determination. Once a current year application is received, it takes precedence over the previous year's application.
- Please change the two sections highlighted in yellow to your school information before you print these applications for your households or send them out as an email. The highlight can be removed as well by clicking the in the tools above. We strongly encourage you to highlight the availability of Online applications to your households as they are so much more efficient for all involved in the process. The online link is noted in the upper right-hand corner. USDA data has shown that the more accessible a school district makes the process for parents/guardians, an increase in return rate will result.
- The Letter to Households must accompany the Application for Free and Reduced-Price School Meal. It explains why the parents should consider completing and returning the application if they fall under the income chart included in the letter. The income chart is the limit to qualify for reduced-price meals. If a school district is participating in the Special Milk Program (SMP), the household should receive the free eligibility guidelines instead of the reduced-price chart in this letter. For schools participating in both the SMP and National School Lunch and/or Breakfast Program, households should receive both the free and reduced-price income guidelines. (Pg 12 Eligibility manual)
- Please remember to ‘fill in the blanks with specific school district information, i.e., breakfast and lunch price
- This colorful instruction sheet walks the household step by step through the application. While the letter to households answers ‘frequently asked questions, this sheet lists the information needed by section.
- Available for almost 50 different languages on the USDA website: Translated Applications | Food and Nutrition Service (usda.gov) Please let our office know if you need help revising the applications for use in your school district.
- For school districts that choose to provide additional benefits such as free schoolbooks, computer insurance, instrument rental, exam fee waivers, or reduced athletic fees for children eligible for free and reduced-price meals, the school district must obtain consent forms from the household to make the eligibility available to programs outside of the school meal programs. Include the Information Release form with the Application if you have other programs using the eligibility information.
Income Information for Determining Applications
- This sheet is used to determine whether the household income is eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals. This matrix has the number of people in the household along with the left-hand side and income levels that. Please print this sheet to store with your applications. But do not print this sheet for households or upload this sheet to the school website. This information is available in the federal code of regulations, so it is public information. But there may be a tendency for a household to misrepresent their income if they have this information readily available.
- This worksheet is for annualized incomes.
- USDA research shows that more errors are made on eligibility determinations when the determining official annualizes household income. Household incomes should only be annualized if there are multiple income sources with varying payment frequencies. If there is only one income or all incomes are reported with the same pay frequency, use this chart to determine the eligibility based on the frequency that the income(s) are reported.
Letters of Eligibility Notification
- For those households that are directly certified, this letter template can be used as a notification of their eligibility. School districts must notify the household in writing of the eligibility established through direct certification. This notification can be emailed if the email address is provided.
- If this template is not used, please make sure that the letter you are using contains the following information:
- That the child is eligible for free benefits without filling out an application.
- That any other child in the household is also extended the free meal benefits
- How to notify the school district of other children in the household not listed on the notification
- How the household can notify the school district if the household does not wish to receive free benefits for directly certified children.
- All complete applications must be determined for eligibility and the household must be notified about the level of benefits they will receive or if they are denied. This letter template can be used for notification of either eligibility or denial. If this template is not used, please make sure that the letter you are using contains the following information:
- The level of eligibly whether free or reduced-price meals or
- If denied, a reason for denial must be stated.
- The household has the right to appeal the decision
- The contact information for a hearing official in case the household does not agree with the determination.
- If denied, the letter must state that another application may be submitted at any time during the year.
Notification for Carryover period Expiration *Coming Soon
- This letter is not required to be sent to households; however, school officials are encouraged to clarify for families that the carryover of the household eligibility from the previous year will end after 30 operating days. The letter should inform families to submit a new application for school meals to re-establish their child’s eligibility before the end of the carryover period. If a family does not respond to the letter by submitting a new application, benefits are terminated on the 31st day of operation. The household does not have the right to appeal this termination as the eligibility is a carryover from the previous year’s application.
Each school district must verify the information on 3% of eligible income applications received by October 1st each year.
Verification Tracker * Coming Soon
- This letter template is to be sent to the household(s) that have been selected to verify the information on their application. The household must receive this notification in writing, and it must provide a list of documents or other forms of evidence to confirm eligibility. It must also have a date by which the household needs to respond with the requested information. If the NDDPI template letter is not used for verification, please find the 10 requirements for a verification notification letter on page 107 of the Eligibility Manual or call our office to check that you have covered the requirements with your alternative document.
Notification of Change in Benefits/Termination of Free or Reduced-Price Benefit
- If a household receiving benefits is found to have a reduction in meal benefits during verification or does not respond to the verification notice, the letter notifying the household of a change or termination of the free or reduced-price meals must be sent. If benefits are terminated, the letter must state that the household may reapply for benefits if there is a change in their household. The school district must give the household 10 days to respond before benefits are reduced or terminated.
Verification Collection Help
Starting as soon as Sept 15th, Sponsors must verify (ask for documentation) 3% of the total number of income applications received by October 1 every year. Verification is confirmation of eligibility for free and reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program. The verification process must be separate from the approval process. Verification information may be provided at the time application is made for free and reduced-price meal benefits, but the application must be initially approved or denied based on the information supplied on the application. 3% is only 1 out of every 33 applications. When calculating the 3% all fractions must be rounded up to the nearest whole number.
Confirmation Review Before Verification
Each application selected for verification must be re-evaluated by a different person than the person who made the original determination. Once the required confirmation review is completed, the sponsor may proceed with verification if the initial determination was correct. If the confirmation review indicates the new eligibility status is to the household’s benefit, the sponsor should make the changes as soon as possible and proceed with verification. If the confirmation review shows that there should be a decrease in benefits. The sponsor proceeds with and completes verification before any notification of a new eligibility status is given.
Household Notification of Selection
When a household is selected for verification and is required by the sponsor to submit documents or other forms of evidence to document eligibility, the household must be sent a notice or letter informing them of their selection and of the types of information acceptable to the sponsor. Sponsors must provide households a means of asking questions about verification by telephone without the household incurring a charge for the call. When the sponsor verifies an application by contacting an agency such as FDPIR or County Social Services/SNAP to verify eligibility, the letter or notice of selection is not required.
Verification documentation can be from any point in time between the month prior to application and the time the household is required to provide income documentation. Acceptable verification documents are listed for the following forms of income:
- EARNINGS/WAGES/SALARY FOR EACH JOB:
- Current paycheck stub that shows how often it is received-OR-
- Signed letter from employer stating gross wages paid and how often they are paid
- SELF EMPLOYED PERSONS (INCLUDING FARMERS)
- A most recent copy of federal tax form 1040-OR-
- If the previous year's tax form is not indicative of current income status, business or farming papers such as ledger or tax books may be used
- SOCIAL SECURITY/PENSIONS/RETIREMENT
- Social Security retirement benefit letter-OR-
- Statement of benefits received-OR-
- Pension notice
- UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION/DISABILITY OR WORKER’S COMPENSATION
- Notice of eligibility from State Unemployment Office-OR-
- Check stub-OR-
- Letter from Worker’s Compensation
- SNAP OR TANF BENEFITS, FDPIR ASSISTANCE
- Benefits letter from agency
- CHILD SUPPORT/ALIMONY
- Court decree, agreement, or copies of checks received.
- ALL OTHER INCOME
- Information or papers that show the amount of income received, how often it is received, and the date received.
If the household is unable to confirm its eligibility or refuses to cooperate in verification efforts, benefits must be terminated in accordance with the hearing procedures outlined in the sponsor's free and reduced-price policy statement.
Notice of Adverse Action
All households for whom benefits are to be reduced or terminated must be given ten calendar days' written advance notice of the change.
The first day of the advance notice period is the day the notice is sent.
The notice must advise the household of the following:
- the change in benefits,
- the reasons for the change,
- that an appeal must be filed within the ten-day advance notice period to ensure continued benefits while awaiting a hearing and decision,
- the instructions on how to appeal,
- that the household may reapply for benefits at any time during the school year, and
- that Food Stamp or TANF households may submit an application containing household names and income information and provide written evidence of current household income and the social security numbers of adult household members.
Completion of Verification
Verification of the selected/chosen sample size must be completed by November 15 of each year. Information must be recorded on the Verification Summary Report in NDFoods.
Online Verification Summary Report Instructions
- Starting November 15th, school districts must file a summary of their verification report in ND Foods. The instructions for collecting the data and filling out the report are available here.
Verification Summary Report Help Document
- Even when we think the instructions for filing a federal report seem crystal clear, there can be confusion with wording, timelines, which data to use, and more. Please access this help document for more frequently asked questions but feel free to contact NDDPI Child Nutrition and Food Distribution at any time with questions regarding verification, the application process, or the school meal programs in general.
All letters that reference federal school meal programs must include the nondiscrimination statement in its entirety, in a font that is no smaller than the majority of the text in the document. Please make sure that the nondiscrimination statement (NDS) is the one used by USDA-FNS. NDS for Title programs, the school district, and others are often different than the school meal program NDS.
The following videos will guide you through the Verification Reporting Process.
SFA Verification Collection Report - Gathering Information - https://youtu.be/-PN29wFBTUg
SFA Verification Collection Report – Report Completion