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SFA Ability to Share Student Meal Eligibility Info


Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin
Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information
To: School Nutrition Program Sponsors Number: NSD-SNP-12-2010
Attention: Food Service Directors and School Eligibility Officials Date: April 2010

Subject: Clarification Regarding the Ability to Share Student Meal Program Eligibility Information Between School Food Authorities

Reference: United States Department of Agriculture’s Eligibility Manual for School Meals; California Education Code Section 49558

This Management Bulletin (MB) provides information and advice to clarify the extent to which School Food Authorities (SFAs) can share a student’s eligibility for the purposes of operating a school meal program. For the purposes of this MB, the term “district” shall be used interchangeably with “SFA” and includes all sponsors of a school meal program.

California has State laws that protect and govern free and reduced-price meal applications, and these laws are more restrictive than the applicable federal regulations.

California Education Code (EC) governs the disclosure of meal records. Specifically, EC Section 49558(a) states:

All applications and records [emphasis added] concerning any individual made or kept by any public officer or agency in connection with the administration of any provision of this code relating to free or reduced-price meal eligibility shall be confidential, and may not be open to examination for any purpose not directly connected with the administration of any free or reduced-price meal program, or any investigation, prosecution, or criminal or civil proceeding conducted in connection with the administration of any free or reduced-price meal program.

This section of the EC does not prohibit districts from sharing meal eligibility information to ensure that individual students continue to receive school meals when moving from one school district to another, either at the beginning of or during the school year. Both districts must ensure that the information remains confidential and is used solely for determining a student’s eligibility in a meal program.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.1 If a student enrolls in a new district at the beginning of a school year, may the student’s original district share his/her prior year eligibility information with the new district to qualify the student for meal benefits during the first 30 operating days of the school year?

A.1 Yes. The student’s original district may provide either the actual eligibility application, or may choose to provide the SFA with only the student’s name and eligibility status. Providing the minimal meal eligibility data helps to maintain household confidentiality. The California Department of Education (CDE) urges SFAs to develop agreements with other SFAs regarding how the data is shared, transported, protected, and destroyed once it is used only for determining meal eligibility. In this situation, when an SFA shares the student’s prior year eligibility with the student’s new district, the eligibility is only in effect for the first 30 operating days of the new school year.

However, if the prior school was participating in Provision 2/3 and in a non-base year, it would not have collected an eligibility application or have a record of eligibility for that individual student for the prior year. In this case, a new eligibility application must be collected from the household and certified to determine a student’s eligibility at the new school at the beginning of the school year.

Q.2 Is it mandatory for an SFA’s eligibility official to share a student’s eligibility status, application, or record with another SFA for school meal program purposes?

A.2 No. EC Section 49558(a) does not require SFAs to share eligibility status, applications or records. While it does prohibit the examination of meal applications and records for any purpose not “directly connected” to a food program, SFAs may share a student’s eligibility in order to ensure that a student entering a new school district continues to receive his/her meal benefits when moving to a new district.

Q.3 What eligibility documentation may be shared between SFAs?

A.3 An SFA may share a student’s meal application, record (e.g., direct certification list, letter on agency letterhead, etc.), or eligibility status (e.g., a copy of the official eligibility determination notification).

Q.4 Is an eligibility official responsible for confirming that the information in an application received from another district is correct?

A.4 Yes. When a student transfers to another school district, the new SFA may accept the eligibility determination from the student’s former SFA without incurring liability for the accuracy of the initial determination. However, when a copy of an application is provided, the accepting SFA should review the application for arithmetic errors and compare the income and household size to the application income eligibility guidelines to assure that the correct level of benefits was assigned. If the accepting SFA determines that an arithmetic error occurred, the accepting SFA must notify the household that it must file an application in the new SFA in order to receive benefits. Also, the accepting SFA must make changes that occur as a result of any verification activities or review findings conducted in that SFA.

When sharing a meal eligibility application, both the originating and receiving districts are responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the information. If only a student’s name and eligibility status is shared, the originating district is responsible for the accuracy of the determination.

Q.5 If a student changes school districts during the school year, is he/she required to fill out a new eligibility application?

A.5 No. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Eligibility Manual for School Meals, a student’s eligibility is in effect from the date of the eligibility determination for the current school year. The USDA Eligibility Manual for School Meals can be found at the USDA Web page http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Governance/notices/iegs/EligibilityManual.pdf (Note, the preceding Web address is no longer valid, and has been replaced with http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/EliMan.pdf). The eligibility official of the new school district can request the student’s meal application, record (e.g., direct certification list, letter on agency letterhead, etc.), or eligibility status (e.g., a copy of the official eligibility determination notification) from the previous school district. However, a new application is not needed at this time, unless the student is coming from a Provision 2/3 school in a non-base year. A household can always submit a new application if its household size and income changes, so the student would receive a higher level of meal benefit (e.g. from “paid” to “reduced-price” or “free”). The SFA receiving the data must have a process to apply the new student’s eligibility in order to prevent a lapse in the student’s meal benefits.

Q.6 Some charter schools have difficulty obtaining direct certification information. Can a direct funded charter school ask its chartering school district to obtain the direct certification information for its students?

A.6 Yes. The charter school should request that the chartering school district assist with the direct certification process. For questions about direct certification, please contact Ruthann Munsterman, Program Specialist, by phone at 916-323-0863 or by e-mail at rmunsterman@cde.ca.gov.

Q.7 Can an Outdoor Education/Environmental Camp receive a list of students’ names and eligibility status from districts sending students to the camp?

A.7 Yes. School districts can provide camps with a list of student names and corresponding eligibility status to ensure that meals served at the camps are counted and claimed correctly. Please note that in the case of students coming from a Provision 2/3 school in a non-base year, the school must provide the percentage of meal counts for breakfast and lunch by category (free, reduced-price, and paid) from the corresponding month of the base year. The percentages must be applied to the total students attending the camp in order to ensure that the camp claims the meals accurately.

Q.8 Can an SFA provide a district with the names of children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, so these children may receive reduced-price transportation charges, reduced locker or testing fees, holiday gift baskets, and/or other non-school food program goods/services?

A.8 No. School officials may not provide individual eligibility information for purposes outside the free and reduced-price meal programs, except for very restricted purposes that are listed in EC Section 49558(b) and (c). EC 49558 can be found at the Legislative Counsel’s Web page at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=49001-50000&file=49550-49562. However, households may provide copies of their student’s meal eligibility notification forms to the district for such purposes.

If you have questions regarding this guidance, please contact the appropriate SNP specialist listed on form Caseload SNP in the Download Forms section of the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System. You may also contact the SNP Unit Secretary by phone at 916-322-1450 or 800-952-5609.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
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