School meal applications are one way to determine students' eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals. They also gather demographic information about school and neighborhood populations in order to determine Title 1 and Summer Food Service Program eligibility. It is important for schools to encourage all families to fill out school meal applications to ensure any student who is eligible receives the free or reduced-price meals to which they are entitled.
Households can fill out school meal applications any time of the year and can reapply for meal benefits if they experience a change in income—even if previously denied. The USDA offers school meal applications in 49 different languages for families who do not read English and who may have trouble filling out the standard application, as well as assistance for limited literacy populations.
Some students may not need to return an application in order to be eligible for school meals. Direct certification allows families enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), certain MassHealth insurances, and/or homeless, foster, or migrant students to automatically receive free or reduced-price school meals.
Increasing the number of returned applications can help schools increase breakfast participation and provide free or reduced-price meals to all students who need them. Some strategies for increasing the return rates of school meal applications include: