administrative burden for schools and families. To ease the administrative burden and expand the reach of the school meals programs, since 1980 USDA regulations have allowed school districts to use special provisions for determining federal reimbursement for meals served in one or more schools in a district. Under two such special provisions, Provision 2 and Provision 3 (discussed further below), the district provides free meals to all students in the participating schools (supplementing federal funds with local funds) while taking applications at most every 4 years. Three new special provisions for providing universal free meals were authorized in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The first, the Community Eligibility Option (CEO), will be permitted in schools, groups of schools, or school districts that identify at least 40 percent of students as being categorically eligible for free meals. Such identification is either through direct certification of students whose families are on lists of participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program, or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), or through identification of students on other lists, including students who are homeless, foster children, and children in other specified categories (see Chapter 2 for details). The second alternative allows the Secretary of Agriculture to consider use of a periodic socio-economic survey of households of schoolchildren by not more than three school food authorities (SFAs) participating in the NSLP. The third option is the topic of this report. The act authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to consider implementing the approach recommended by this panel for using estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS) and other data sources to determine reimbursement under a new universal free-feeding provision that reduces administrative burden compared with the traditional approach of taking applications and counting meals. We call this option the ACS Eligibility Option (AEO).
In 2009, prior to the authorization of the three new special provisions, FNS began investigating the feasibility of using data from the ACS in the administration of the school meals programs in lieu of collecting applications. In exchange, schools or entire districts would provide free meals to all students. FNS asked the National Academies’ Committee on National Statistics and the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board to convene an expert panel to consider ways of using ACS data for implementing the AEO. This, the panel’s final report, evaluates the quality of the estimates that would be needed from the ACS for an AEO, suggests key elements of a new AEO provision for consideration by FNS, and specifies a technical approach whereby school districts could determine the utility of ACS estimates for an AEO and assess whether to adopt the AEO. The panel also recommends further research and development to improve