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School Nutrition Programs Eligibility

Each school year, local educational agencies (LEA) must determine and certify a student’s eligibility to qualify for free and reduced-price (F/RP) meals or free milk benefits.

This Web page contains School Nutrition Programs (SNP) eligibility information and policies for LEAs that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Afterschool Meal Supplements (Snack) under the NSLP, Special Milk Program (SMP), and State Meal Program.

LEAs must provide households with an application that allows them to apply for F/RP meals or free milk for all children in the household and cannot require the household to submit an application for each student within the same LEA. Also, LEAs cannot require a household to submit an application for F/RP meals or free milk if they choose to decline to participate in the program. LEAs are required to include the application and instructions with the letter to household and must distribute these materials near the beginning of each school year.

The SNP prototype eligibility materials comply with federal and state requirements that are monitored by the California Department of Education (CDE) during an SNP Administrative Review. There is no requirement to use the SNP eligibility materials, but LEAs should validate that their eligibility materials are in compliance with federal requirements from the USDA Eligibility Manual for School Meals; Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), Part 245; and state requirements from California Education Code (EC) Section 49557.

Eligibility Materials

The CDE offers the following prototype SNP eligibility materials:

  • Application for F/RP Meals
  • Application for F/RP with CalFresh Option
  • Application for F/RP Meals: State Meal Program
  • Application for the Free Milk
  • Letter to Households and Instructions for F/RP Meals
  • Letter to Households and Instructions for F/RP Meals with CalFresh Option
  • Letter to Households and Instructions for Free Milk
  • Media Release for F/RP Meals or Free Milk
  • Direct Certification Notification Letters for F/RP Meals or Free Milk
  • Notification Letter for F/RP Meals or Free Milk
  • Verification Materials*

*Review the SNP Verification Materials Web page for worksheets, forms, and other materials to assist with the annual, mandatory verification process that confirms the eligibility of a sample of approved household applications in the NSLP and SBP.

Income Eligibility Guidelines

Schools, agencies, institutions, and facilities participating in the NSLP, SBP, and SMP must use the Income Eligibility Guidelines (IEG) to qualify households for F/RP meals or free milk. The IEGs are based on the current federal poverty guidelines by total household size. For additional information, review Management Bulletin (MB) CNP-05-2017: 2017–18 Annual Income Eligibility Guidelines (May 2017).

Note: The IEGs from prior years are available on the CDE Rates, Eligibility Scales, & Funding Web page.


National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program


Sharing School Meal Applications with CalFresh (Assembly Bill 402)

LEAs may voluntarily implement a process to share information from the F/RP meal application with their local CalFresh office.


Special Milk Program



State Meal Program

 

USDA Prototype Materials

The USDA provides prototypes of F/RP eligibility materials for LEAs to use; however, the documents must be revised to comply with the California requirements. The USDA materials are available on the USDA School Meals Web page External link opens in new window or tab..

For additional information on the California requirements, review the Resources tab or MB SNP-18-2016: Eligibility Requirements for SNP (November 2016).

 

Online Application

The USDA and CDE do not evaluate, recommend, approve, or endorse any software used for certification or verification purposes. There are no federal specifications for software vendors. LEAs are responsible for assuring that any automated certification and verification processes meet all federal and state requirements and policies, including the calculation of income frequencies, and that the software used is performing correctly.

Online Application

 

California Online Requirements

Senate Bill (SB) 708 amended EC Section 49557 to allow LEAs the option to offer households the use of an online F/RP application. Public school districts and county offices of education (COE) opting to offer an online application must include Web links to the following resources that are not required with the paper application:

SB 708 requires that an LEA’s online application comply with the privacy rights and disclosure protections established by the federal National School Lunch Act and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. This bill also prohibits an online application from being made available or accessible if the online application allows for the information provided by an applicant to be used by a private entity for any purpose not related to the administration of a school food program, or if the online application requires an applicant to waive any right or to create a user account in order to submit the application.

The intent of SB 708 is to improve access to translated school meal applications, streamline eligibility determination process, add hyperlinks to connect households with support programs such as CalFresh, add privacy protections for applicants, and include clear instructions to households.

Note: EC Section 49557 requires paper F/RP applications to be available at all times during each regular school day. Only offering an online application for the household to complete is not acceptable. The online application should include a statement explaining how to obtain a paper application if the household decides they no longer want to complete an application electronically.

 

USDA Prototype Online Application

The USDA provides an online prototype application for F/RP meals. LEAs may download the design and open source publications free of charge from the USDA; however, the application is not structured for direct or immediate use by the household unless integrated with appropriate data management systems. The online application is highly customizable to incorporate an LEA’s contact information and California requirements. For additional information, review the USDA School Meals Web page External link opens in new window or tab..

 

Resources

Resources

 

USDA Eligibility Manual

LEAs are required to follow the USDA Eligibility for School Meals Guidance Manual. For the most current version, review the USDA School Meals Web page External link opens in new window or tab..

Note: California has a more stringent law than the federal law regarding Confidentiality and Disclosure. LEAs must disregard the chapter in the USDA Eligibility Manual, and follow EC sections 49557 and 49558.

USDA Policy Memos

LEAs can access guidance issued by the USDA on the School Meals Policy Web page External link opens in new window or tab..


CDE Management Bulletins

LEAs can access guidance issued by the CDE on the SNP Management Bulletins Web page.


Federal Regulations

LEAs can access 7 CFR, Part 245, on the U.S. Government Publishing Office Electronic Code of Federal Regulations Web page External link opens in new window or tab..


Education Code

LEAs can access EC on the California Legislative Information Web page External link opens in new window or tab..


California Requirements

LEAs that choose to use the USDA prototype eligibility materials instead of the CDE materials, must modify the documents to comply with California requirements as follows:

  • Add EC Section 49557(a) on the F/RP application in at least 8-point boldface font size. Must include the following statement:

Applications for free and reduced-price meals may be submitted at any time during a school day. Children participating in the federal National School Lunch Program will not be overtly identified by the use of special tokens, special tickets, special serving lines, separate entrances, separate dining areas, or by any other means.

  • Change all references from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to CalFresh.

  • Change all references from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs).

    • Sharing Information with Medicaid/State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

    • Sharing Information with Other Program


Optional to Apply

Applying for the F/RP meals or free milk program is optional for households and school officials cannot force a household to apply. For additional information, review MB 02-104: Submission of Meal Applications by Households (May 2002).    


Letter to Household

LEAs must distribute letters to all households, except directly certified households, informing them that F/RP meals or free milk may be available to their children and how to apply for benefits per 7 CFR, Section 245.5(a)(1). LEAs may distribute the letter by mail, an e-mail to the parent or guardian, or include with back-to-school information packets.


Public Media Release

Near the beginning of each school year, all LEAs must notify the public of their participation in the F/RP meals or free milk program per 7 CFR, Section 245.5(a)(2). LEAs are required to provide the notice to the local news media, the unemployment office, and any employer with large layoffs in the attendance area. Residential Child Care Institutions without day students (group homes and youth facilities) are exempt from this requirement.


Nondiscrimination Statement of Civil Rights

LEAs must include the federal nondiscrimination statement on all forms of communication available to the public. The nondiscrimination statement must be prominently displayed on all notification letters, publications, and posters. If the material is too small (flyers, brochures, pamphlets), the LEA may use the short nondiscrimination statement in a font size no smaller than the text. If the full statement is included on the letter to households and instructions, then the short statement may be used on the application. For the most current statement (full and short), review the Civil Rights Fact Sheet Web page.


Racial and Ethnic Categories

All participating Child Nutrition Program sponsors are required to collect ethnic and racial data every school year for each site under the sponsor's jurisdiction. For additional information, review the Description of Racial and Ethnic Categories Web page.


Use of Information Statement

LEAs are required to include the following statement on the F/RP meal application per 7 CFR, Section 245.6(a)(8)(i)(A):

The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act requires the information on this application. You do not have to give the information, but if you do not, we cannot approve your child for free or reduced-price meals. You must include the last four digits of the social security number of the adult household member who signs the application. The last four digits of the social security number are not required when you list a CalFresh, California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kid (CalWORKs), or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) case number or other FDPIR identifier for your child or when you indicate that the adult household member signing the application does not have a social security number. We will use your information to determine if your child is eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and for administration and enforcement of the lunch and breakfast programs.

Include the following on the free milk application per 7 CFR, Section 215.13a(f):

The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act requires the information on this application. You do not have to give the information, but if you do not, we cannot approve your child for free milk. You must include the last four digits of the social security number of the adult household member who signs the application. The last four digits of the social security number are not required when you list a CalFresh, California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs), or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) case number for your child or other FDPIR identifier or when you indicate that the adult household member signing the application does not have a social security number. We will use your information to determine if your child is eligible for free milk, and for administration and enforcement of the program.

Note: If the statement cannot fit on the application, the LEA may reference it in the signature section and include it on the reverse side of the application or include it with instructions on how to complete the application. 


Limited English Proficiency

An individual with a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English is considered Limited English Proficient (LEP). LEAs that receive federal funding to participate in the NSLP, SBP, and SMP have a responsibility to ensure that language and communication are not a barrier for individuals identified as LEP. For additional information, review MB SNP-09-2016: Limited English Proficiency (July 2016).


Direct Certification

Direct certification (DC) means determining if a child is eligible for free meals or free milk, based on documentation obtained directly from the CDE and/or local county to certify that the child is a member of a household receiving assistance with CalFresh, CalWORKs, or FDPIR. An authorized LEA liaison must certify that a child meets the definition as foster, homeless, migrant, runaway, or enrolled in a Head Start program to be eligible for free meals or free milk. For additional information, review the CDE Direct Certification Web page.


Confidentiality

LEAs cannot place a consent box on the application to permit the sharing or disclosure of the application or a child’s eligibility status for other benefits (transportation, lockers, library, testing fees). For further information, review the following:  

Contact Us

If you have any questions, please contact your SNP specialist. The SNP specialist list is available in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System External link opens in new window or tab. Download Forms section, Form ID Caseload. You can also contact an SNP office technician by phone at 916-322-3005, 916-322-1450, or 800-952-5609, Option 2 to be directed to your SNP specialist.

Questions:   School Nutrition Programs | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, June 6, 2017
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