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Preventing Overt Identification of Children

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: School Nutrition Program Sponsors

Attention: Food Service Directors

Number: SNP-05-2015

Date: January 2015

Reference: U.S Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service Policy Memorandum SP 45-2014; Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, sections 245.6(b)(10) and 245.8; and California Education Code Section 38100; Assembly Bill 626

Supersedes: Management Bulletin USDA-SNP-06-2013

Subject: Preventing Overt Identification of Children Certified for Free or Reduced-Price School Meals and Vending Machine Reimbursements

This Management Bulletin (MB) clarifies and supersedes California Department of Education (CDE) MB USDA-SNP-06-2013, which reiterates U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements for preventing overt identification of students eligible for free or reduced-price (F/RP) school meals, as explained in USDA Policy Memorandum SP 45-2012. Additionally, this new MB provides information regarding the implementation of Assembly Bill (AB) 626 (Skinner), Chapter 706, Statutes of 2013, which in part amended California Education Code (EC) Section 38100.

Overt Identification Definition

The USDA defines overt identification as any action that can identify a child as approved or potentially eligible to receive F/RP school meals or free milk. A school food authority (SFA) (local educational agencies [LEA] participating in School Nutrition Programs [SNP]) must ensure that it does not disclose a child’s eligibility status at any point in the process of providing F/RP meals, including notification of the availability of F/RP benefits, certification and notification of eligibility, provision of meals in the cafeteria, point-of-service (POS) meal counts, and/or through the payment method.

Prohibited Actions

Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), Section 245.8 prohibits SFAs from:

  • Publicizing or announcing F/RP eligible households or children’s names
  • Using different mediums of exchange for F/RP school meals
  • Having separate dining areas, service times, or serving lines for F/RP meals
  • Limiting choices of reimbursable meals for F/RP meals
  • Requiring that children work for their meals
Direct Certification

SFAs are not required to provide applications to parents when children are eligible for free meals through direct certification, but they must ensure that the method used to distribute applications cannot overtly identify these children. If an SFA distributes applications to individual households by mail (including e-mail) or in individual student packets or provides online availability, the SFA does not need to provide applications to households in which all children are determined eligible through direct certification. If the distribution method is not individualized, the SFA must provide applications to all households (7 CFR Section 245.6[b][10]).

Free and Reduced-Price Policy Statement

The information required in the SFA’s F/RP Policy Statement is more expansive than the list below. This list refers only to descriptions and methods SFAs use to prevent disclosure of a student’s F/RP eligibility status and overt identification. It does not include other required policy statement information unrelated to application and meal payment collection or meal counting systems. The F/RP Policy Statement must:

  1. Describe the procedures the SFA uses to distribute and collect F/RP applications and how the procedures prevent overt identification

  2. Describe the method(s) the SFA uses to collect payments from students paying the full price of a meal or milk, or the reduced price of a meal; the description must include how the method(s) prevents the overt identification of the students receiving F/RP meals or free milk

  3. Describe how the SFA prevents overt identification at the POS when serving free, reduced-price, or paid meals

  4. Describe how cafeteria staff and all meal service procedures, including those for competitive foods, prevent overt identification of students receiving F/RP meals or free milk

  5. Describe how an SFA that accepts both cash and electronic payments prevents overt identification of F/RP students
Food Service Area

The prevention of overt identification in the food service area, especially at the POS, is essential. According to the USDA, if an SFA has a food service line that sells only competitive foods and another food service line that provides only National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or School Breakfast Program (SBP) reimburseable meals, this separation of food service, according to the USDA, may allow for overt identification because students using the NSLP/SBP line could be presumed eligible for F/RP meal benefits. The USDA recommends that districts review their practices and, to prevent overt identification, encourages SFAs to:

  1. Limit competitive foods to those foods also offered as part of reimbursable meals on the reimbursable lunch lines; for example, if a burrito is part of a reimbursable NSLP meal, the SFA could also sell a burrito as a competitive food

  2. Offer competitive foods in the same lines as the SFA offers reimbursable meals (i.e., do not serve NSLP meals and competitive foods on different lines)

  3. Require students to purchase competitive foods with a prepaid card
Media of Exchange

The following are payment considerations that prevent overt identification:

  1. SFAs must ensure to the maximum extent practicable that the method of payment does not identify a student as eligible for F/RP meals.

  2. The USDA and the CDE recommend that SFAs use prepayment systems as much as possible to limit the exchange of money, which can indicate a student’s eligibility status. Prepayment systems virtually eliminate overt identification during the meal payment process.

  3. SFAs must make reasonable efforts to publicize and encourage use of prepayment options by students and parents. SFAs should provide multiple ways to make prepayments, such as online and at locations within the school. The SFA should notify the parent or guardian when the student’s prepaid balance no longer possesses sufficient funds to purchase a meal, or when the account is nearing this amount.

  4. SFAs cannot code or color any meal cards, tickets, tokens, or other payment methods in a manner that would overtly identify F/RP eligible children.

  5. SFAs must take steps to ensure that students cannot view rosters, computer screens, or other equipment used at the POS.

  6. SFAs should mask or code information on the rosters or screens to prevent students or staff who should not see information regarding a student’s eligibility status from being able to do so.
Vending Machines

Effective January 1, 2014, districts may, during the same fiscal year of the purchase, reimburse their district funds from the nonprofit school food service account (cafeteria fund) for the purchase of vending machines, if specific conditions are met. AB 626 amended EC Section 38100 to allow districts that have purchased vending machines with district funds to reimburse those same funds from the cafeteria fund, as long as the reimbursement is during the same fiscal year as the purchase of the equipment. Furthermore, in order for the district funds to be eligible for reimbursement the following conditions must also be met:

  1. If the vending machines are owned and operated by the school food services department, the SFA must use the vending machines to sell meals that qualify for federal meal program reimbursement, and ensure they are equipped with appropriate POS meal counting software.

  2. The vending machines must sell only foods or beverages, or both, which comply with state and federal competitive food laws and regulations.
Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this MB, please contact your SNP Specialist. The SNP County Specialist list is available in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System Download Forms section, Form ID Caseload SNP. You can also contact the SNP Office Technician by phone at 916-322-1450 or 800-952-5609, Option 5 (The preceding information is no longer valid) email at

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, April 3, 2024
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