First Things First

We strongly encourage you to review the model paper application on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website. Spending some time with that application and its instructions to households is perhaps the best introduction to the school meal application, its purpose, and the information that your application has to collect from households.  We also encourage you to explore the variety of electronic applications that school districts are already using.

But please keep in mind that we refer you to these as background resources only!  We want your application to set a new standard of design and efficiency, with features that reduce applicant burden and applicant error. We want you to reimagine the application for a web-based environment – we do not want a simple electronic adaptation of our paper application.


Background for Solvers

In most cases, applicant eligibility for free or reduced-price school meal benefits is based on the household’s size and income relative to the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

In other cases, eligibility is established through documentation of the household’s participation in other means-tested Assistance Programs, or the special circumstances of the child (including homelessness; runaway, migrant, or foster status; or Head Start enrollment).

Our challenge to you is to make the process of collecting that information as clear and simple as possible while improving the quality of the information reported by applicants using interactive features that cannot be included in a traditional paper application.

USDA will use your high-fidelity application to develop an electronic prototype for states and school districts to adopt as their own, incorporate into their existing systems, or use as a foundation to build upon.


Required Fields/Information to Include

With that as background, your application must prompt for:

Child Information

  • a list of the names (first, middle initial, last) of all children
  • each child’s status as a student
  • each student’s status as a foster child; as homeless, migrant, or runaway; or as a Head Start participant 

Assistance Program Participation

  • a case number for Assistance Programs (SNAP, TANF, FDPIR)

Other Household Member Information

  • a list of the names (first, last) of all other household members, the last four digits of the Social Security number of an adult household member, or an indication that they do not possess a Social Security number
  • confirmation of the total number of household members

Income Information

  • sources of income and the frequency at which they are earned for each household member, including children (such as wages, pensions, Social Security, unemployment compensation, welfare, etc.) – see Income “interviews” for children and adults.

Signature & Contact Information

  • electronic signature by a household member (21 years of age or older) [Signatures do not need to be government certified for the purpose of this competition.]
  • the date the application was signed
  • address, phone number and email address (with an indication that these fields are optional)
  • city, state and zip code

Your application will not, in fact it must not, inform the applicant whether the children named on the application are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Instead, all applications must be reviewed by the school district before any household is informed that their children have been approved (or denied) for free or reduced-price benefits. This makes your job easier. You do not need to evaluate any applicant’s eligibility for program benefits. Your only task is to create an application that collects the information necessary for school districts to make the correct eligibility determination.

Finally, your application must display the USDA Non-Discrimination Statement, Use of Information Statement, Attesting Statement, and a standard Children’s Racial & Ethnic Identities Question on at least one screen.

If you would like to see the required elements graphically depicted in relation to the current model paper application, check out the Interactive Application Diagram.


Important Things to Note

Remember, there are some response scenarios which may result in “skipping” certain sections of the application. You can view how the paper application incorporates the required skip patterns via the Application Requirements Diagram

  • If the application is being made for a student who is a member of a household receiving assistance under the SNAP, FDPIR or TANF, the application should only prompt for the student’s name, program case number, signature, date, and contact information.
  • If the application is being made only for a student that is a foster child, the application should only prompt for the child’s name, indication of their status as a foster child, signature, date, and contact information.

In both of these cases, applicants should be fast-tracked to the end of the application, skipping the sections on household members, income, and social security number.

  • If the application is being made for children who meet the description of "homeless", "migrant," or "runaway", or "Head Start participant", or where some but not all children are foster children – all steps of the application must still be completed.
  • For the total household size, the number entered or confirmed MUST equal the number of household members named earlier in the in the application. If there are discrepancies, applicants should be prompted to go back and update the information previously entered.
  • If an adult household member does not possess a social security number, the household must be able to indicate this on the form; United States citizenship or immigration status is not a condition of eligibility for free and reduced price benefits.

Remember, if you would like to see the required elements graphically depicted in relation to the current model paper application, check out the Interactive Application Diagram.


Have a Question?

We’re here to help and we welcome your questions. Please send us a note via the Discussion Board, or email