July 1, when the application period for free and reduced-price school lunches opens, is an important date for schools. Your school’s percentage of free and reduced students can impact your eligibility for state and federal programs as well as grant opportunities. The earlier you get started the better. It can be a challenge to get responses from eligible families during “normal” years. COVID-19 will prove the process even more challenging.
If you’re new to the process, the USDA Eligibility Manual for School Meals will guide you every step of the way.
In some cases, you may not need an application for every eligible student. “Direct certification” allows you to determine student eligibility based on other state or local agency documentation, such as households eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Foster children, homeless youth and others are also special exceptions.
For remaining students/families, you will need to provide the 2020-21 application for free and reduced-price school meals available from your state agency overseeing school meal programs. The USDA offers a Prototype Application for Free and Reduced Price School Meals, which you could reference as well. It includes:
Prototype letter to households, titled Frequently Asked Questions About Free and Reduced-Price School Meals
Prototype Application instructions, titled How to Apply for Free and Reduced-Price School Meals
Prototype information sharing authorizations:
Prototype verification materials:
Prototype household benefit issuance notifications:
These packets must be distributed between July 1 and the first day of school.
Start your preparations now and get the applications in the mail on July 1. Reminder emails, phone calls and additional postcard mailings may also be helpful to get a good response from your families.
School Breakfast Program Outreach Materials from USDA – All schools are required to promote school breakfast.