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USDA School Meal Programs Verification Response Rate Challenge

About the Challenge
Submit your great ideas for increasing NSLP/SBP verification response rates!

Posted By: Food and Nutrition Service
Category: Ideas
Skill: Ideas Interest: Local Government Submission Dates: 10 a.m. ET, May 04, 2017 - 2 p.m. ET, Jun 15, 2017 Public Voting Dates: 10 a.m. ET, Jun 16, 2017 - 2 p.m. ET, Jun 22, 2017 Judging Dates: Jun 16, 2017 - Jun 26, 2017 Winners Announced: Jun 30, 2017


It’s late September, 2017.  School meal applications have slowed to a trickle and your office is switching gears to draw your verification sample.  You have high hopes that the plan you spent so much time refining over the summer will increase your household response rate: a re-designed verification selection notice, text message reminders, and that brilliant idea that Wanda came up with!  Surely one of those will make a difference…  You would feel just a little more confident if you knew that another school district had success with a similar strategy.


School districts approved almost five million household applications for free or reduced price school meal benefits last year.  Nearly nine million children from low income families were named on those applications. You know how vital the school meal programs are to the families in your district. But you also recognize the importance of the annual verification process.

Many school districts struggle with low verification response rates. Despite their best efforts some districts get barely half of their households to respond. For other districts a 50 percent response rate would be a big improvement.

But just as many districts have identified low-cost and creative strategies, often through trial and error, that allow them to consistently exceed 70, 80, or 90 percent response rates. In some cases those strategies are tailored to unique local circumstances and may not be practical anywhere else. But other strategies are more universal – sometimes a great idea is just a great idea.

The Challenge

The “Verification Response Rate Challenge” is a public forum for school district officials to exchange ideas on how to increase household response in the annual verification process. District staff can share their own verification success stories or they can build on others’ submissions with constructive feedback and suggestions. Either way, the goal is to encourage dialog, refine ideas, and put great strategies to work.

Your contribution may help other school districts increase their verification response rates, reduce the time and expense associated with repeat follow-up reminders to households, and reduce the risk that eligible children lose access to program benefits.

The challenge is structured as a contest to maximize engagement and help uncover the most effective solutions. A panel of distinguished judges will review participant submissions on criteria that include proven success, cost effectiveness, practicality, and creativity. USDA will feature submissions recognized in several categories at this summer’s School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference in Atlanta.


Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS
President, School Nutrition Association
Cindy Long
Deputy Administrator, Child Nutrition Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service
Kristen Hyatt
Assistant Deputy Administrator, Child Nutrition Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service
Judging Criteria

Demonstrated Effectiveness - 35%

Judges will award up to 35 points for the strength of evidence provided in support of the solution’s impact on household response. Evidence might include documented changes in response rates after the district implemented its solution. Because response rates are so closely associated with sample size, an increase in household response in the absence of a reduction in sample size is the strongest evidence of effectiveness.

Research and Creativity - 35%

Judges will award up to 35 points for solutions that make effective use of independent research and creativity. Solutions that reveal new insight into the barriers to household response, and offer creative approaches to overcome those barriers, will receive the most points in this category.

Presentation, Clarity, and Persuasiveness - 30%

Judges will award up to 30 points for presentation, clarity, and persuasiveness. Some solutions may be untested. In other cases, the impact on household response may be difficult to prove. One goal of this challenge is to begin a discussion to generate new ideas or refine existing approaches. Participants advance that goal with well-written solutions that make a persuasive case for their adoption.

How to Enter

How to Enter Your Solution

1. Select “Submit Solution” from the “Challenge Details” menu on the left hand side of this page to register for the challenge.

2. Fill out the form to describe your successful current practice or your great idea. Support your solution with evidence of its effectiveness.

3. Make your solution visible to everyone else by: 

  • Unchecking the box that hides your solution from public view, and
  • Checking the box to show associated solution files (if applicable).
  • Note that making your solution public is a condition of entry. The challenge administrators will uncheck the box that hides your solution if you miss this step.

4. Be creative!

  • Attach documents such as your redesigned verification notice,
  • Summarize your verification follow-up protocol with a diagram,
  • Submit a picture or video to illustrate your innovation, …

How to Comment on Someone Else’s Solution

1. Select “Solutions” from the “Challenge Details” menu on the left hand side of this page to see the complete list of ideas submitted to date.

TIP: Be sure to select “Solutions” from the menu below in order to comment on a specific solution. If you select “Discussions” from the “Challenge Details” menu your comment will not attach to a specific solution.


2. Click on the solution you’d like to comment on.                                                                                                                                                                                                               

3. Select “Comments” from the “Solution Details” menu.                                                                                                                                                  


Potential Game Changer Judges will select up to three solutions for recognition as "Potential Game Changers," the contest’s top award.
Popular Choice The solution that receives the highest average rating from among the five entries with the greatest number of votes received will be recognized as the "Popular Choice."
Best Documented Judges may select a solution based on the strength of evidence given in support of its impact on household response rates.
Honorable Mention Judges may select up to two solutions not recognized in another category for "Honorable Mention" based on the same criteria used to select the "Potential Game Changers."

6 Discussions for "USDA School Meal Programs Verification Response Rate Challenge"

  • Show Replies [+]
    Hi! I am VERY interested in submitting an idea to increase the verification rate - however I wanted to be clear on what paperwork is actually needed to be verified. Do guardians have to submit paystubs? Driver's license? Or is it simply another questionnaire that they must fill out like the initial free/reduced application? Thanks for your help!

    • Reply
      Megan, Thank you for your interest in this project! There's a nice summary of the school meal verification process in USDA's "Eligibility Manual For School Meals" (at The Eligibility Manual is written for State and local officials who administer the school meal programs. The verification section is on pages 79-94. If you're new to this subject I would point you to these pages in particular: 79 to top of 81, 86 - 89, 92 - 94 Hopefully the information contained in the manual will help answer your questions, but if things still aren’t clear, let me know! Thank you, Janis

  • jjohnston1
    Everyone, please take a look at the great submission titled “Follow up, follow up, and follow up!” (the one with the blue and red word cloud). The submitter’s school district has clearly put a lot of thought into increasing their response rate. And their planned refinements for this fall show that they’re not resting on their success. Also, the submitter did a great job of providing evidence in the attached bar chart! Go take a look at the full solution and share your own comments.

  • Janis Johnston
    FNS is excited to see more solutions coming in. Thanks! And don't forget to comment on solutions. Have you tried something similar? How did it work? Let us know!

  • Janis Johnston
    Thanks from FNS to our first, great submission (see it in the solutions tab)! We're looking forward to more ideas and lively discussion!

  • Janis Johnston
    Hi and welcome to our USDA School Meal Programs Verification Response Rate Challenge! We invite you to submit solutions, comment on others’ submissions (in the comment section in each solution), and vote for your favorite. Please let us know if you have any problems uploading your solution or commenting. We’re looking forward to some great ideas! FNS

Add to the Discussion

Solutions View as List
Nutrition and Learning go Hand in Hand
We have found that making the letters and process look similar to c
SAMPLE SOLUTION #5: Opt Out Box   No matter how hard my staff and I tried to g

Once verification participants have been selected, we utilize numerous methods of personal contac
Follow up, follow up, and follow up!
Our school district is in New Jersey and we have 4 high schools and 1 middle school.  We have im
Like Turbo Tax for Free & Reduced Meal Programs
My idea is to replicate the “Turbo Tax” experience to the free and reduced meal benef
SAMPLE SOLUTION #4: “Returned Mail”
SAMPLE SOLUTION #4: “Returned Mail”   One of our challenges is sim
Get On It! Apply Early, Eat Healthy and Get Technology Smart
The On It Foundation is a national public 501 (c)(3) non-profit whose Mission provides free compu
Together we make one
For some people this verification process or any other document may seem difficult to fill out fo
SAMPLE SOLUTION #3 “School Logo Envelope”
Sample Solution #3: School Logo Envelope (with video!)


  • The “challenge” – USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program: Verification Response Rate Challenge
  • “Participant” – An eligible individual, team, or other entity who submits a solution that complies with the rules of the challenge
  • “Solution” – An entry submitted by a participant that complies with the rules of the challenge

Key Dates

  1. Submission period: May 4, 2017 (10:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time) through June 15, 2017 (2:00 p.m. EDT).
  2. Public voting for the “Popular Choice” solution: June 16, 2017 (10:00 a.m. EDT) through June 22, 2017 (2:00 p.m. EDT).
  3. Judging period: June 16, 2017 (10:00 a.m. EDT) through June 26, 2017 (5:00 p.m. EDT).
  4. USDA expects to announce winners on or around June 30, 2017.
  5. USDA reserves the right to extend the registration and submission period or cancel the challenge for any reason without selecting any solutions for recognition.


The challenge is open to U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents age 18 and older at the time of registration, and private entities such as corporations and nonprofit organizations that are incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States.

Individuals entering as teams, and individuals submitting solutions on behalf of corporations or other organizations, must meet the eligibility requirements of individual participants.

The following individuals and entities are not eligible to participate:

  • USDA employees and contractors, and members of their immediate families (spouses, children, siblings, and parents),
  • other Federal Government employees, acting within the scope of their employment,
  • entities involved with the production or execution of the challenge, employees of such entities, and members of their immediate families,
  • challenge judges and individuals with a familial or financial relationship with a challenge judge.

Final determination of participant eligibility rests with USDA.

Registration and Entry

Participants must submit solutions through this site’s “Submit Solution” menu option between May 4, (10:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time) and June 15, 2017 (2:00 p.m. EDT).

Individuals must log in to to submit a solution or to comment on another’s solution.

Participants who are new to will be prompted for the following registration information when they select “Submit Solution”:

  • username (required)
  • first name (optional – but encouraged, to facilitate our open dialog on verification)
  • last name (optional)
  • interests and skill sets as a challenge participant (optional)
  • email address (required)
  • password for new username (required)

Participants may submit their solutions as text, a combination of text and graphics, or video. Participants may supplement their solutions with supporting documents or exhibits such as a verification notice or reminder phone call script.

A submission consists of the following:

  • Title – a title for the solution (required),
  • Image / Logo – a logo for the solution (optional); a logo, such as a school district seal, may make it easier for participants to identify particular solutions,
  • External URL – an external URL to the participant’s YouTube video solution (if applicable),
  • Solution Files – supporting documents or exhibits pertinent to the solution (if applicable); these might include a verification notice, a reminder phone call script, a flowchart of the participant’s verification process, etc., and
  • Description – the text of the solution (required).

Solutions must be reasonably brief. USDA will discard solutions that exceed the following limits. Note, however, that these limits do not apply to supporting documents or exhibits such as a verification notice or reminder phone call script.

Text-only solutions:
500 words, inclusive of title, footnotes, endnotes, citations, and other references

Text with graphics:
500 words, inclusive of text contained in graphics, titles, footnotes, endnotes, citations, and references. Solutions containing graphics must be printable at full size on no more than two single-sided 8 ½ x 11 inch sheets of paper with one inch margins

Video solutions:
2 ½ minutes of video posted to YouTube. Video solutions must be supplemented with a separate document of introductory text, not to exceed 500 words, and a full written transcript. The introductory text will accompany the video’s YouTube link on the challenge web site.

Participants may submit as many solutions as they like.

Public Comment and Dialog

USDA encourages participants and other visitors to the challenge website to review submitted solutions and offer their thoughts, observations, and suggestions for refinement. The comment and process offers all individuals an opportunity to contribute to a common dialog. Individuals need not submit their own solution to comment.

USDA will post solutions received from eligible participants after determining that they comply with the challenge’s Terms and Conditions. Once USDA posts a solution to the challenge website, participants and other visitors will be able to view and comment on that solution.

Voting and Selection of “Popular Choice” Solution

At the close of the submission period on June 15, 2017, USDA will open up a one week voting period. Participants and other visitors to the challenge website may cast up to one vote for each solution, including their own. Individuals will vote by awarding up to 5 stars, with each star representing one point.

The solution that receives the highest average point rating from among the five solutions that receive the most votes will be recognized as the “Popular Choice” solution.

Judging and Recognition

Solutions will be evaluated by USDA Food and Nutrition Service staff and the panel of judges named on the challenge website. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is solely responsible for the selection of judges.

Judging will take place in two rounds:

  1. USDA Food and Nutrition Service staff will review all solutions and award points according to the Judging Criteria. The ten solutions with the most points will be selected as Round 1 finalists.
  2. The panel of judges named on the challenge site will select solutions for recognition, based on the Judging Criteria, from Round 1 finalists.

USDA will select up to seven solutions for recognition based on the points awarded by the judges. In addition, one solution will be selected for recognition based on the votes cast by visitors to the challenge website.

  • “Potential Game Changer” – Judges will select up to three solutions from the Round 1 finalists for recognition as Potential Game Changers, the contest’s top award.
  • “Popular Choice” – The solution that receives the highest average rating from among the five solutions with the greatest number of votes received will be recognized as the Popular Choice.
  • “Best Documented” – Judges may select a solution from the Round 1 finalists with the strongest evidence in support of its impact on household response rates.
  • “Honorable Mention” – Judges may select up to two solutions from the Round 1 finalists not recognized in another category for Honorable Mention based on the same criteria used to select the Potential Game Changers.

Participants must submit their solutions in English to be eligible for recognition by the challenge judges.

USDA will notify participants who are conditionally selected for recognition by email using the contact information provided at registration.

USDA will recognize all winning solutions on the challenge website and at USDA’s session on the verification process at the July 2017 School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference in Atlanta.


15 U.S.C. 3719;

Sections 3 and 9(b)(3)(G) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1752, and 42 U.S.C. 1758(b)(3)(G))

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