Upon hearing of this challenge, I started researching the process of applying for the School Lunch Program. I was astonished to discover there was no requirement to submit paperwork WITH my application. Therefore, my solution would start at the beginning of the process, rather than after.
The Federal Government works with State and Local Governments for a variety of public assistance programs to include housing, food stamps, utility assistance, etc. In order to qualify for such assistance, the applicant must submit the required paperwork WITH their application. Required paperwork can include anything from a recent pay stub to a utility bill to a mortgage statement to a simple word document explaining why you can’t provide a document. It’s also stated on the application that applications will be considered incomplete if not accompanied with required paperwork.
Let me paint you a picture…I go to a school’s website and follow the link to apply for the National School Lunch Program. I am asked for some basic information to include my name, address, student’s names, school names, etc. But then I scroll down and it just asks me for my gross income. I plug in some numbers and hit submit. School year starts, and I am one of the applications selected for verification. Shucks! Oh well, I just won’t send in the required information they are asking for. I make over $60k a year so my child will be removed from the program and then I’ll have to remember to give him money every day. That’s too much work. I just won’t send in my pay stub. After all, how could they refuse to serve my child food?
The above situation occurs more often than we would like to admit. The State of School Nutrition 2016 Survey states that 76% of school districts reported that their meal program had unpaid student debt at the end of SY 14-15. Not requiring paperwork until AFTER the fact, could be a contributing factor to the school districts unpaid debt. Because the instance above is correct, what school district could ultimately deny a child a lunch? They would charge the student account every day until the end of the school year. Sure, they can put restrictions on the child such as no report card, or no graduation, but will those ultimatums stick?
USDA FY 2016 preliminary data states that $13.6 billion in federal dollars was spent in 1 school year for the National School Lunch Program. $12.3 billion was in reimbursements to the states who participated in the program. That’s an awful lot of money being dispersed without a satisfactory application process to acquire such funds.
My solution to the verification problem is to start with the application. Applications need to be submitted with a recent pay stub, prior years tax returns, or verification from a social service account (i.e food stamps, cash assistance, housing assistance, etc). If applications do not come with required paperwork, they will be considered incomplete and not available for participation in the program. This allows school districts to get in front of the problem, rather than continue to chase it through the school year. Over 90% of companies surveyed stated they distribute electronic pay stubs. The avenue to the solution would be as easy as adding an “Upload” link on the electronic applications. The majority of school district websites I visited had the application form online. This would allow for easy tracking, less paperwork for the district employee and less chasing during the school year. Not to mention, starting from the beginning would also limit the amount of unpaid student debt within each school system.