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Who Picks Up the Tab? Reducing Payment Errors in School Nutrition Programs. Trends in Nutrition Policy Issue Brief #3

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Publication Date: February 2009

Publisher(s): Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Author(s): Michael Ponza; Philip Gleason; Lara Hulsey; Quinn Moore

Topic: Health (Food and nutrition)

Keywords: School Breakfast Program; low-income children; School Nurition Programs; National School Lunch Program

Coverage: United States


Over the years, concern has mounted that many of the more than 26 million children certified to receive free or reduced-price meals may be ineligible for these benefits. This brief looks at the issue of reducing payment errors in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). Mathematica's study, the first effort to quantify the amounts and rates of improper payments in these programs, looked at two types of certification errors: (1) household reporting errors, which occur when households misreport information on their applications; and (2) administrative errors, which occur when districts make mistakes in processing applications, determining eligibility, or recording certification status. For all students who applied for school meal benefits or were directly certified, about one in five were either incorrectly deemed eligible for the level of benefits they were approved for, or erroneously denied benefits. In addition, among those certified in error, overcertification was about twice as likely as undercertification. For both the NSLP and SBP, about nine percent of total meal reimbursements were erroneous because of certification error.


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