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Free and Reduced Meal Eligibility


teacher with students

Within the School Meals Programs, free and reduced priced meals must be offered to qualifying students. School Food Authorities (SFAs) receive reimbursement for each reimbursable meal served to students. The reimbursement rate for each meal differs depending on a student's meal eligibility (free, reduced, or paid).

The Eligibility Manual for School Meals provides comprehensive information on the Federal requirements, policies, and procedures for establishing eligibility in USDA School Meals Programs.



Methods to qualify students for meal benefits:



Direct Certification (DC)

DC electronically matches your student enrollment file to a state database (Division of Children and Families – DCF) of children in families enrolled in the following: FoodShare (SNAP), W-2 (TANF) cash benefits, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), or the foster care system. Some Medicaid programs may apply.

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Free and Reduced Meal Applications

SFAs must send applications to households prior to the beginning of the school year, after July 1.

Applications may be completed on paper or electronically. SFAs will then determine a student's meal eligibility.

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Categorically Eligible

Categorically eligible students include those who are automatically eligible for meal benefits, either through Direct Certification or an application.
A child is Other Source Categorically Eligible if determined to be: Homeless, Runaway, Migrant, Foster, or enrolled in a Head Start or Even Start Pre-K program.


Public Release (Required)
All School Food Authorities (SFAs) are required to distribute a Public Release before the start of the school year. The purpose is to inform the community of SFAs offering free and reduced priced meals to eligible student. SFAs should attempt to send the public release to the following:
  • local media
  • grassroots organizations
  • major employers contemplating or experiencing large layoffs
  • local unemployment office
SFAs are not required to pay to have the public release published. SFAs need to maintain documentation that shows who received the current public release as well as a copy of the distributed public release. Please note, the Public Release cannot be posted to the SFA's website, nor to the district handbook.​​​​​​

Public Release (Spanish) (Hmong)

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) webpage contains the public release template for SFAs operating CEP district-wide. 

Notification Letters (Required)
Optional Notification Letters
Sharing Information and Disclosure Agreements

Sharing Information

If a SFA offers the opportunity to waive or subsidize district fees (e.g. registration, athletic fees, technology fees, etc.) based on a student’s free or reduced price meal status, the SFA must provide the Sharing Information with Other Programs form to all students with a free or reduced price status. These waivers or subsidies cannot be provided until a signed Sharing Information form is returned to the SFA.
The Sharing Information form is not required if:
  • Parents/guardians self-disclose eligibility information by providing a copy of their application approval letter
  • The fee waivers and subsidies are handled outside of the food service department by an alternate data collection method


Disclosure Agreements

When individual student eligibility for free or reduced price school meals is disclosed with another program or individual for purposes other than the school meal programs, a Disclosure Agreement should be completed by the individual or organization receiving the information. This agreement notifies the individual or organization receiving student eligibility information that it may only be used for the purpose for which the disclosure was made; further disclosure to other parties is prohibited, and criminal penalties for improper release of eligibility information may apply. The signed disclosure agreement must be retained by the school food authority (SFA) for three years plus the current school year. It is best practice to renew the disclosure agreements annually.

Individuals employed by the school food authority (SFA) who are responsible for State reporting, other local education programs (e.g., drivers' education, precollege courses), or determining fee waivers should complete the Disclosure Agreement for School Staff, also available in (Spanish).

Any agency outside of the SFA that receives individual student eligibility information should complete the Disclosure Agreement for Outside Entities (Spanish) and retain a copy on file for three years plus current. It is best practice to renew the disclosure agreements annually. 

State Agency Contacts (Other Source Categorical)

  • Migrant Program Coordinators-A migratory student is someone who moves because they or their family are involved in seasonal agricultural work. Migratory students often move multiple times per year.
  • Homeless Liaison Directory-The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act defines homeless children and youths as those who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
  • Out-of-Home Care (Foster)-A student living in out-of-home care means a student who has been placed in a residential setting outside of the student’s home by a county, state, or tribal child welfare agency.


Alyssa Santana, RDN, CD
Nutrition Program Consultant
(608) 266-1046
Tanya Kirtz
Nutrition Program Consultant
Ann Wiebelhaus
Nutrition Program Consultant
(608) 267-9233