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Free & Reduced Price Meal Eligibility - Limited Disclosure Policy

United States Department of Agriculture
Food and Nutrition Service

SP 99-07
Subject:    Limited Disclosure of Children's Free and Reduced Price Meal or Free Milk Eligibility Information

The Healthy Meals for Healthy Americans Act of 1994, P.L. 103-448 amended the National School Lunch Act to allow limited disclosure of information about free and reduced price meal eligibility without consent. The statute also specifies a fine or imprisonment for the unauthorized disclosures of this information.

This law does NOT require the school district to disclose eligibility information. The school district may continue to provide aggregate information that does not identify individuals without consent.

It is recommended that each Local Education Agency (LEA) establish and disseminate a written eligibility disclosure policy with advice of the LEA’s legal counsel due to the sensitive nature of privacy and confidentiality issues. At a minimum, a school that decides to disclose information that identifies individuals must adhere to the following USDA Guidelines:

USDA Guidelines for Disclosure of Eligibility Information

1. Names and eligibility status may be disclosed without consent to persons directly connected with the administration or enforcement of the following programs:

  • FEDERAL education programs, such as Title I and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • STATE health or STATE education programs provided the programs are administered by the State agency or a Local Education Agency. Representatives of State or Local Education Agencies evaluating the results and compliance with student assessment programs would be allowed only to the extent that the assessment program was established at the state, not the local level.
  • FEDERAL, STATE, and LOCAL means tested nutrition programs with eligibility standards comparable to the National School Lunch Program (such as the Food Stamp Program, or a State, or local nutrition program).

2. All eligibility information obtained on the application or through direct certification or verification may be disclosed without consent to:

  • Persons directly connected with the administration or enforcement of programs authorized under the National School Lunch Act (NSLA) or the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (CNA). This includes not only the National School Lunch, Breakfast, and Milk programs but also includes:
    • Child and Adult Care Food Programs
    • Summer Food Service Programs
    • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women,  Infants and Children (WIC)
  • This means that program eligibility information collected for any one of the Child Nutrition Programs may be shared with another Child Nutrition Program, even if the programs are sponsored by a different agency.
  • The Comptroller General of the United States for the purposes of audit and examination.
  • Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials investigating alleged violations of any of the programs under the NSLA and CNA or investigating violations of any of the programs authorized to have access to names and eligibility status.

NOTIFICATION OF HOUSEHOLDS
Even though it is not required, USDA recommends that the household be notified of the potential disclosure or use of this eligibility information outside of the original purpose. The notification should state that the participants’ names, eligibility status and other information provided on the application, or obtained through direct certification, or verification may be disclosed to certain other Federal, State, or local agencies as authorized by the NSLA.

WAIVERS OF CONFIDENTIALITY
1. The disclosure of participants’ names and any eligibility information that identifies them individually to programs or individuals not specifically authorized by the NSLA requires written consent prior to disclosure of the information. Examples of programs that need prior written consent from the parents or guardian are:

  • Federal health programs (Medicaid, Missouri MC+ for Kids Health Insurance Program.)
  • Local health and local education programs and other local level activities. For example, the disclosures of children’s eligibility for free and reduced price meals to determine children’s eligibility for a locally sponsored Parent Teacher Association (PTA) scholarship application.
  • Any other Federal, State, or local program or individual not included in the above exceptions.

2. The consent statement (waiver of confidentiality) must :

  • Indicate what information will be shared.
  • Indicate how the information will be used.
  • Be signed and dated by a parent or guardian
  • Include the following statement: "Failing to sign the consent statement will not affect eligibility or participation for the Child Nutrition programs and that the information will not be shared by Child Nutrition with any other agency or program."
  • Allows parent or guardian to be able to limit consent to only those programs with which he or she wishes to share information.

DISCLOSURE OF SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS
When disclosing or using the social security number provided by the household on the application for any purpose other than the Child Nutrition Programs, the school district must modify the notice required by the Privacy Act of 1974 concerning the potential uses of the social security number. The notice MUST inform households of the additional intended uses of the number.   The Privacy Act of 1974 is located on each application for free and reduced price meals.

WRITTEN AGREEMENT BETWEEN SCHOOL DISTRICT AND AGENCY RECEIVING ELIGIBILITY INFORMATION
USDA recommends that the school district enter into a written agreement with the agency requesting the information. The agreement should:

  • Identify the agency requesting the information
  • Describe the information to be disclosed
  • Describe how the information will be used
  • Describe how the information will be protected from unauthorized uses and disclosures.
  • Inform the agency that the information may be used only for the purpose of which the disclosure was made. Additional uses or disclosure to other parties is prohibited, and a violation of this provision may result in a fine or imprisonment.
  • Be signed by both the school district and agency.

PENALTIES FOR IMPROPER DISCLOSURE
The NSLA establishes a fine of not more than $1000, or imprisonment of not more than 1 year, or both, for publishing, divulging, disclosing, or making known in any manner or extent any eligibility information not authorized by Federal law.

PROTECTION OF STUDENTS
Protection of the identity for students eligible for free and reduced price meals should be the top priority when making disclosure decisions. Due to the liability involved for the information provider and the district, it is prudent for each district to establish a written policy and procedures for disclosure. Orientation of school staff and consistent administration of the district policy and procedures will provide the best protection of students. Consistent policy implementation can provide some defense if allegations concerning misuse of eligibility information arise. Districts that choose NOT to disclose eligibility information should have a written policy to that effect.