Estimating Improper Payments for School Meal Programs: Access, Participation, Eligibility, and Certification II (APEC)

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service

The Food and Nutrition Service has developed policies and initiatives designed to ensure that meal benefits from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) reach eligible students as intended and that districts receive their correct reimbursements. The first Access, Participation, Eligibility, and Certification (APEC-I) study provided the first reliable national estimates of improper payments due to certification error made to school districts in 2005–2006 for the NSLP and the SBP. It was also the first national study to examine the amounts and rates of improper payments arising from the process of counting meals and obtaining reimbursements from state agencies after students were certified.

Using data from school year 20122013, APEC-II produced updated estimates of improper payments, including for districts and schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The study team found that:

  • For all schools in the NSLP, about 10 percent of total reimbursements were improper because of certification errors. For the SBP, this figure was about 11 percent.
  • Meal-claiming errors accounted for 5 percent of total NSLP reimbursements and 11 percent of total SBP reimbursements. Aggregation error was not an important source of improper payments.
  • Among schools not using CEP, one in five students who received or applied for meal benefits was certified inaccurately.
  • Household reporting error was more than twice as common as administrative error as the cause of certification error. Schools using CEP had low rates of improper payments due to certification error, less than 2 percent for both the NSLP and SBP.

The study also produced econometric models that can be used in future years to estimate improper payments on the national and state levels.