USDA Waivers: Three Supplemental Funding Risk Factors for California School Nutrition Programs

Two young and smiling girls getting lunch one is grabbing for an apple next to a salad funding risk factors for school nutrition california usda waivers

Your students qualify for supplemental funding through either direct certification or a free and reduced price meal application. However, a USDA waiver that allows all students to receive free meals for the 2021-2022 school year could lead districts to revisit the way they collect information about students that qualify for additional funding through the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). 

This could potentially mean a significant loss of money depending on the number of homeless, migrant, tribal youth and fostered English Language Learners are in your district. The supplemental per student funding ranges from $1,540 for K-2 students up to $1,866 for high schoolers. That money makes a big difference in delivering a high-quality education for your neediest students. 

While ensuring maximum funding has always been a challenge, there are three risk factors that are unique to the 2021-2022 school year for districts to manage: 

  1. Family engagement
  2. Process management and marketing
  3. The focus of the nutrition department  

Evaluating each of factors in careful detail will not only provide some risk mitigation, but also allow you to examine your processes and make improvements. 

#1 Funding Risk Factor for School Nutrition: Family Engagement 

As families are aware of the waiver, they may not complete the required form as students simply need to show up for school lunch. When talking with some of our partner districts, some have mentioned they will require all students to complete the LINQ Alternate Income Form. They will also use the conditional logic built into the system to determine which students qualify for supplemental funding.

The system offers access via mobile devices, which are often the primary internet-enabled device in some households, especially those below the poverty threshold. 

In fact, the share of lower-income Americans who rely on their smartphone has consistently been increasing. According to a Pew Research Report from 2015, “…this reliance on smartphones also means that the less affluent are more likely to use them for tasks traditionally reserved for larger screens. For example, lower-income smartphone owners were especially likely to use their mobile device when seeking out and applying for jobs.” 

In addition to accessing the form and workflow, mobile devices accept text messages. A comprehensive communication solution like LINQ’s uses email and text notifications to drive form completion.  Also, although vaccination rates are improving every day, many people are still hesitant to visit district offices or schools.  Providing an easy-to-complete form in multiple languages provides the means by which all families can participate. 

#2 Funding Risk Factor for School Nutrition: Process Management and Marketing 

Even with a solution that works on multiple devices and in multiple languages, districts still do not receive maximum funding. The reason is that getting people to complete the required forms is a marketing function. The traditional methods to recruit parents or guardians to sign up for free-and-reduced meals may not be available in ’21-’22. Again, fewer people will be attending in-person activities like back-to-school night. 

This is where a marketing focus can really drive usage. A form on a website is a good default choice, but may not reach all potential participants. Email, text, phone, and face-to-face mediums can all be effective. The challenge for districts is determining the communication plan and ensuring that systems are coordinated for maximum response. 

One of the biggest challenges for districts is that sign-ups have peaks and valleys and fluctuate by time of year.  A well-planned outreach campaign helps automate sign-ups for most families. This frees up districts to connect with only the families who have not signed up after multiple outreach efforts.  

Here are some outreach methods to consider for your program.

Email Outreach

Email is one of the most effective ways to reach participants. But it comes with a couple of challenges. First, emails are unreliable, as they may not be legible or an active email account that people check regularly. The LINQ family of products helps districts identify bad emails and find alternative methods for reaching the parent or guardian. 

Text Messaging

Also an effective method: text messaging. Recent studies show that an amazing 98% of text messages are opened and read. And with LINQ, you can include a link to the Alternate Income Form right within your text message. 

A coordinated, year-round marketing campaign is only possible with the right technology. Look for a partner that has the expertise to plan and execute a multi-faceted outreach campaign to potentially eligible families. 

#3 Funding Risk Factor for School Nutrition: Nutrition Department Focus 

For the 2021-2022 school-year, your nutrition department will likely serve more students than they ever have; the USDA has authorized schools to provide free meals to all students. On top of that, your department’s primary source of funding–the USDA–has eliminated the requirement for you to report on the number of students eating free and reduced meals. 

It’s a risky move if your nutrition department runs the sign-up for supplemental funding eligible students through nutrition in ’21-’22. Nutrition departments are already short-staffed. Plus, adding more student meals means less time for students to complete free and reduced meal lunch applications correctly. 

Get the Supplemental Funding You Need with Automation

Instead of relying on a manual collection process for your critical data, you can automate the process with a solution that supports multiple languages, works on multiple devices, and has built-in workflows that contact families and guardians via multiple mediums until they sign up. Gathering information to guarantee full supplemental funding is too important to the success of your district. It deserves its own process and LINQ is here to help. 

Get the funding your district needs, faster.

The Alternative Income Form from LINQ helps school nutrition programs automate data collection so you can focus on what matters most: the students.

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