The purpose of this memo is to identify the benefits of improving meal application return rates, to identify allowable practices in the collection of meal applications, and to identify methods and places within communities where students and families can be made aware of the availability of the school meals programs and how to access those programs.
When districts and families partner to complete Free and Reduced-Price Meal Applications, both benefit from the following:
- Free and reduced-price meals for students;
- Access to ACT testing at no cost to the family;
- Access to discounted rates for internet services and other supports;
- Specific educational program funding, such as eRate and Title 1; and
- Potential state Categorical Funding.
Qualifying students may also have access to endorsed concurrent credit courses at no cost to the family, per requirements of Act 1118 of 2017.
Federal policies govern the free and reduced-price meal application process. Federal Regulation 7CFR 245.6(1) states, “The local educational agency cannot require the household to submit an application for each child attending its schools.”
Allowable district practices in the collection of applications can include, but are not limited to,the following:
Sharing with parents and guardians the benefits for both families and schools;
- Encouraging community outreach and partnerships to encourage households to submit applications for meal benefits;
- Providing the community information regarding free and reduced-price meals by posting applications in parent centers, post offices, grocery stores, employment offices, county health units, and other community buildings; and
- Utilizing technology (call-outs, emails, apps, websites, etc.) to remind families that meal benefits are available to all students at any time during the school year.
Districts might consider distributing the “Public Release”, which details the availability of the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program and provides information related to program eligibility, in the following locations:
- Local Newspaper
- Local Cable TV Company
- Local TV Stations (News)
- Local Businesses / Employers / Factories
- Local Health Department
- Local Department of Motor Vehicles
- Local Department of Human Services Office
- Local WIC Office
- Local Churches
- Public Libraries
- Local Hospitals
- Local Housing Developments
- Electric Service Providers
- Doctor’s Offices
The Public Release can be found at http://www.arkansased.gov/public/userfiles/Fiscal_and_Admin_Services/Child_Nutrition/Forms/9-Public_Release.docx
Expenses related to the distribution of the Public Release, such as the cost of printing in the newspaper and printing of applications are allowable expenses from the non-profit food service account.
Districts should continue to rely on their district official(s) to accurately determine the eligibility of students for free and reduced-price meals. These individuals are trained regarding the appropriate methods and requirements for approval and denial of all applications. The determining official will communicate with households if additional information or clarifications are needed prior to making the eligibility determination.
Districts are reminded that eligibility status is confidential information and should not be shared except as outlined in the Eligibility Manual for School Meals.
For more information regarding federal policies and guidelines, please contact the Child Nutrition Unit at (501) 324-9502.