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Free and Reduced Price Meal Applications and Eligibility


Free and Reduced Price Overview (Including Verification)

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This section offers resources providing a brief overview of determining free and reduced priced eligibility and verification processes. To learn more about these processes, reference the following resources:

Eligibility Manual For School Meals

The Eligibility Manual for School Meals provides comprehensive information on the Federal requirements, policies, and procedures for establishing eligibility in USDA School Nutrition Programs. It is intended to help State and School Food Authorities (SFAs) accurately determine, certify, and verify children’s eligibility for free and reduced price school meals and free milk.

The Food and Nutrition Service will not release an updated Eligibility Manual for School Meals for School Year 2018-19. State agencies and program operators can continue to use the 2017 Edition of the Eligibility Manual for upcoming school year.

SY2018-2019 Applications - for School Use Only

Parents or guardians that wish to apply for free or reduced-price meal benefits must contact the school where your child attends to obtain the appropriate Federal Child Nutrition Program applications.

Do not distribute before July 1, 2018

Public Release

All School Food Authorities (SFAs) are required to distribute a Public Release before the start of the school year. SFAs should send the public release to media and grassroots organizations. In addition, SFAs should send the release to major employers contemplating or experiencing large layoffs and local unemployment offices, as applicable. SFAs are not required to pay to have it published but must maintain documentation of whom the release was sent to along with the specific materials distributed. Note, the Public Release cannot be posted to the SFA's website and/or district handbook. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) web page contains Public Release templates for SFAs operating both District-wide and Mixed District CEP.

Paper Application

SFAs are required to distribute paper Free and Reduced-Price Meal Application packets to all households in the district on or about the beginning of the school year but not before July 1, 2018. The following documents must be included in the packet. Spanish and Hmong versions are posted for SFAs to distribute as needed:
Please see our short webcast for instructions on how to fill out an application, available in both English and Spanish: Filling out the Household Application for Free and Reduced Price School Meals.
To make changes to the Free and Reduced-Price Meal Application, please send an email describing the edits to After reviewing the request, we will send you an unprotected version of the application. If application materials are needed in languages other than those noted above, please visit the USDA FNS Translated Applications web page or contact the DPI School Nutrition Team at 608-267-9228. The USDA 'I Speak' Statements can help SFAs identify specific language needs.

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)

For those SFAs operating as a Mixed District with the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), the Free and Reduced Price Meal Application above has been modified to collect information for students attending CEP schools and non-CEP schools. Student data for those attending CEP schools must be kept separate from those attending non-CEP schools. For those SFAs operating CEP District-Wide, please visit the CEP webpage for specific program information, including the DPI Alternate Household Income Form used for collecting income information for Title 1, SAGE (AGR), etc.

Special Milk Program (SMP)

Free milk application materials for SFAs operating the SMP Pricing with Free Milk Option can be found on the SMP Pricing with Free Milk Option webpage.


Application materials from previous years can be found on the Past Application Materials web page.

Visit the Direct Certification webpage to run Direct Certification for your school.

Online Application

If the SFA uses a web based application, the web based vendor must be approved by DPI prior to distribution of the application to households. The approved vendor listing is updated annually. As a reminder, the application for the 2018-2019 school cannot be posted or distributed prior to July 1, 2018.

Software Vendor Approval Date
Meals Plus June 14, 2018
Wordware, Inc. June 25, 2018
Skyward June 27, 2018
Infinite Campus June 28, 2018
Heartland July 19, 2018
Horizon July 19, 2018
PCS Revenue Control System July 19, 2018
Harris School Solutions July 24, 2018
MealTime Apply Online July 26, 2018
Free App. LLC August 15, 2018

Income Eligibility Guidelines

The Income Eligibility Guidelines for School Year 2018-19 are for school staff only and are used in the processing of Free and Reduced-Price Meal Applications. SFAs utilizing a software system for approval of applications should confirm the system uses the current guidelines. 

Notification Letters

SFAs must notify all households of application denial in writing. Approved applications can be notified in writing, email or verbally; however, written communication is encouraged.

Optional Notification Letters

SFAs must modify the letters for school specific information and should delete the milk reference if not participating in the Special Milk Program (SMP) or WI School Day Milk Program (WSDMP).
SFAs should modify the meal benefit status in the Joint Custody letter to send to split, joint custody households when a student’s benefits have been determined from a paper application. Use the Direct Certification Approval Letter template for students determined through Direct Certification (DC).

Special Milk Program (SMP)

For those SFAs operating the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the Special Milk Program (SMP), the following should be provided to households with students eligible to participate in the SMP:

Transfers and Carryover

SFAs can use the template letter to communicate student transfer and carryover status from Provision (CEP and P2) schools to Non-Provision schools


Visit the Verification web page for all verification resources.

Fair Hearing Procedures

Fair Hearing Procedures Information

Per the Permanent Agreement/Policy Statement that each school food authority (SFA) agrees to when completing the online contract with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI)-School Nutrition Team (SNT), each local educational agency (LEA) of a school participating in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, or the Special Milk Program agrees to establish a hearing procedure that meets all of the requirements of USDA regulations 7 CFR 245.7. The Fair Hearing Procedure should be used when households appeal either a determination of benefits (the decision made by the LEA with respect to the households free and reduced price meal application) or a decision based on the verification of benefits (the continuation of benefits).

Sharing Information

If the SFA exercises the option to provide the opportunity to waive or subsidize other district fees (e.g., registration, athletic fees, technology fees, etc.) based on a student’s free or reduced price meal benefit status, the SFA must provide the Sharing Information with Other Programs form to all recipients as determined through an application as well as Direct Certification. SFAs must allow households to limit consent to only those programs they wish to share information. SFAs are not allowed to have a blanket fee waiver. Additional benefits outside of the meal benefit cannot be provided until a signed form is returned to the SFA allowing the information to be shared. Alternatively, SFAs can have parents/guardians self-disclose eligibility information by providing a copy of their application approval letter to the program offering fee waivers or subsidized fees. Another option is for fee waivers and subsidized fees to be handled outside of the food service department by an alternate data collection method.


A Disclosure Agreement form should be signed by any individual, or an organization, that is receiving individual student free and reduced price school meal eligibility information for purposes other than school meal benefits.
Any individual that is provided with individual student eligibility information for state reporting purposes or local program fee waivers should complete the Disclosure Agreement for School Staff and retain a copy on file at the district.
Any agency that is receiving free and reduced price meal benefit information for individual students should complete this Disclosure Agreement form and retain a copy on file.  

Independent Review of Applications

As part of an effort to decrease certification error during the eligibility determination process, Section 304 of the 2010 HHFKA requires that certain local education agencies (LEAs) conduct a second, independent review of applications for free and reduced price meal benefits before eligibility determinations are made.

LEAs that demonstrate high levels of, or a high risk for administrative error associated with certification and benefit issuance, are required to conduct a second review of all applications received by October 31.

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