Sneak Preview: Eligibility Pilot Urged for School Meal Programs

August 7, 2014 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xgran_bookshot(The following was excerpted from an article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) To reduce the number of ineligible participants in the Department of Agriculture’s school meal programs, the Government Accountability Office recommended that USDA launch a pilot program to determine if was feasible to use computer matching to identify households with income that exceeds program eligibility thresholds.

USDA reported that in fiscal year 2012, more than 31.5 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program and 12.9 million participated in the National School Breakfast program. However in fiscal year 2013, USDA estimated that the verification error rates for both the NSLP and NSBP were about 9 percent, costing about $2.5 million total.

The Office of Management and Budget subsequently designated NSLP as one of 13 federal “high-error” programs due to its large estimated improper payments. “OMB’s designation of the school meals program as a ‘high-error’ program with significant estimated improper payments makes it important that internal controls and oversight for the school meals programs be strengthened while simultaneously ensuring that students who qualify for benefits are not adversely affected,” GAO said.

In response to these concerns, USDA has taken steps to improve its controls to prevent ineligible individuals from participating in the program. For example, it:

  • worked with Congress to develop legislation to automatically enroll  or “direct certify” students who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which has a more-detailed certification process  for school meals;
  • increased the frequency with which state agencies complete administrative reviews of school districts from every five years to every three years, beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, to identify if eligibility determinations were made correctly; and
  • issued guidance in February 2012 to clarify that school districts have the authority to verify approved applications for school-district employees applying for free- or reduced-priced meals when information indicates that the employee misrepresented his or her income.

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