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Research in Progress


Child Nutrition Program Operations Study Ii, School Years 2016-17 And 2017-18

The Child Nutrition Program Operations Study II is a multiyear study designed to provide FNS with information on current State Agency and School Food Authority policies, practices, and needs. This includes a range of descriptive information from the State and school district levels, as well as data on special topics of current interest, such as the level of State and local subsidies beyond Federal reimbursements, nutrition education and promotion in schools, policies regarding unpaid meal balances, professional standards and training requirements, and practices related to local food purchasing. Research briefs for school years 2016-17 and 2017-18 are expected to be published in 2021.

Study Of Non-Response To The School Meals Application Verification Process

This in-depth case study examined (1) the accuracy of the current verification process, (2) district practices when verifying applications for cause, and (3) the ultimate results of the verification process, including the reasons why households do not respond to verification requests and how many households reapply.

Community Eligibility Provision Characteristics Study

With the expansion of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) nationwide in SY 2014-2015, FNS is in need of updated information on the characteristics of participating and eligible non-participating CEP schools and school districts. This study examines operational issues and perceived incentives and barriers for adopting CEP as well as the impacts on National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program participation and per meal revenues. Using data collected in SY 2016-2017, the study will update the information obtained in the implementation component of the earlier Community Eligibility Provision Evaluation of the early implementers of CEP.

Study Of School Food Authority Procurement Practices

This study examines the decision-making process of School Food Authorities (SFAs) regarding school food procurement practices in SY 2017-2018. By surveying and interviewing a nationally-representative sample of SFAs, this study elaborates on previous studies that concentrate on a single food-service program or focus on a single procurement program (such as USDA Foods or USDA Department of Defense Fresh). The study examines overall procurement practices at the SFA level, including the use of food service management companies, cooperative purchasing entities, small and micro-purchases, recordkeeping, and local purchasing. The results of this study will assist FNS in improving the technical assistance provided to SFAs.

Evaluation Of Child Nutrition Special Grants: Fiscal Year (Fy) 2016 Team Nutrition Training Grants

The Team Nutrition Training Grants provide states with support for nutrition education, training, and technical assistance activities to support implementation of USDA nutrition standards for meals and snacks offered through the Child Nutrition Programs. This study examines the Team Nutrition Training Grant (TNTG) program in order to describe the activities of grantees, their implementation strategies, and the characteristics of sites and participants for FY16 grantees. With insights gleaned through technical assistance provided to the grantee cohort, the study results will inform guidance for strengthening evaluation practices among future grantees.

Third Access, Participation, Eligibility And Certification Study (Apec-Iii)

The Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) requires Federal agencies to report annually on the extent of erroneous payments in their programs, including both overpayments and underpayments. The objective of APEC-III is to calculate updated, nationally-representative estimates of annual improper payments in the school meals programs by replicating the methodology implemented in previous APEC studies, using data collected in SY 2017-18. The estimates will measure error in the certification, meal claiming, and aggregation processes. In addition, the study includes: (1) robust, statistically reliable national estimates of the annual amount of erroneous payments in NSLP and SBP among sub-groups, such as student, school, and School Food Authority (SFA) type; (2) a sub-study on the differences in error rates among SFAs using different program integrity implementation strategies; (3) qualitative analyses examining the reasons for erroneous payments; and (4) model-based State-level point estimates of improper payments for the 48 continental States and the District of Columbia.

Evaluation Of The Independent Review Process

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) included several provisions to help increase effectiveness and integrity in Child Nutrition programs. As part of an effort to decrease certification error during the eligibility determination process, Section 304 of the HHFKA requires certain local educational authorities to conduct a second, independent review of applications for free and reduced-price meal benefits before eligibility determinations are made. FNS published a final rule establishing the requirements related to the provision, which became effective in SY 2014-2015. This evaluation assesses the process and effectiveness of this requirement and will help to determine if changes in the process are necessary.


Evaluation Of The Direct Certification With Medicaid (Dc-M) Demonstrations For Free And Reduced-Price Meals, Year 3

As noted above, FNS began conducting new demonstrations in SY 2016-17 to directly certify students for both free and reduced-price meals using Medicaid data in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. FNS awarded demonstrations to a second cohort of eight states for SY 2017-2018. The third year of the evaluation study collected data in SY 2019-2020 and will examine the impact of the demonstrations in fifteen states that are conducting matching from the first day of the school year.


School Meals Operations Study

The School Meals Operations Study is the next iteration of the Child Nutrition Program Operations series, which FNS conducts annually to collect and analyze data on select operational aspects of the Child Nutrition Programs. This includes a wide range of descriptive information from the State and school district levels, as well as data on special topics of current interest. Results are used to inform Child Nutrition Programs management and policy development. SY 2020-21 data collection is currently underway.


Evaluation Of The Team Nutrition E-Star Training Program

This evaluation will examine the implementation and effectiveness of the Team Nutrition Enhanced Strategies, Training, Action Plans, and Resources (E-STAR) Training Grant program. E-STAR, a school food service curriculum developed by the Institute of Child Nutrition, will be implemented starting in SY 2021-22 by Michigan Department of Education, the State agency that received the FY 2019 Team Nutrition E-STAR Training Grant. (Implementation had been planned for SY 2020-21 but was considered infeasible due to the pandemic.)


Fourth Access, Participation, Eligibility And Certification Study (Apec-Iv)

As noted above, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) requires Federal agencies to report annually on the extent of erroneous payments in their programs, including both overpayments and underpayments. APEC-IV will refine the methodology used in previous studies to produce updated, nationally-representative estimates of annual improper payments and error rates in the school meals, using data collected in SY 2023-2024. (Data collection was originally scheduled for SY 2022-23 but has been rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rescheduling of SNMCS-II.)

Child And Adult Care Food Program (Cacfp) Research


Study Of Nutrition And Activity In Child Care Settings (Snacks)

The Study on Nutrition and Activity in Child Care Settings (SNACS) is a congressionally mandated study that: 1) assesses nutrition and wellness policies/practices and meal quality for infants and children participating in CACFP; 2) describes food and nutrient intakes of infants and children in CACFP child care centers and outside of child care; 3) determines the meal costs and revenues in CACFP child care centers; and, 4) describes and assesses plate waste in CACFP child care centers.


Child And Adult Care Food Program Operations Study (Cacfp-Ops)

This project will conduct a study of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to collect and analyze data on select operational aspects of the program, including factors affecting family day care home participation in CACFP.


Second Study Of Nutrition And Wellness Quality In Child Care Settings (Snacs-Ii)

The second Study on Nutrition and Wellness Quality in Child Care Settings (SNACS-II) will assess the same issues examined in the first study (SNACS). It will also provide information on any changes since the first study and on how well child care providers are following meal pattern guidelines which were updated in October 2017. Data collection is expected to occur in school year 2022-23.

Summer Meal Programs Research


Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Ebt) Evaluation, 2015-2018

The Summer EBT for Children demonstrations were authorized and funded by Congress in 2010 as a complement to traditional summer meal programs. Summer EBT provides nutritional assistance to low-income children during the summer months through EBT technology used for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). A rigorous evaluation of the original cohort of grantees showed that Summer EBT substantially reduced food insecurity among children and increased the consumption of healthy foods. In 2015, eleven grantees received funding under the demonstration, including nine from the previous cohort. This study examines how Summer EBT projects were implemented and administered during the summers of 2015 through 2018. The evaluation also analyzes grantee administrative costs and describes benefit use during the same time period, including participation and redemption patterns across a number of household and program characteristics.

Summer Meal Program Participant Characteristics And Meal Analysis Of Quality (Summer Meals Study)

The Summer Meals Study will provide a comprehensive, up-to-date understanding of sponsor, site, and child-level participation in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO). This is the first national study to simultaneously examine program characteristics in relation to participation and satisfaction with the programs among households.  Specifically, the study will examine children’s and their caregivers’ satisfaction with the program, ways in which FNS could better accommodate their needs, and reasons why families living in eligible areas are not participating in the Summer Meal Programs. The study will also describe sponsors’ and sites’ meal service characteristics, the nutritional quality of the meals offered and activities the sites provide in an effort to determine how these factors influence children’s participation and satisfaction with the program. In addition, the study will investigate the barriers and facilitators to preparing and serving summer meals and identify reasons former sponsors are no longer participating in the Summer Meal Programs. Data collection was conducted in 2018.


Summer Food Service Program (Sfsp) Integrity Study

State Agencies are a critical link in achieving SFSP program integrity by ensuring compliance with program regulations, providing training, and conducting oversight reviews of sponsors and sites. This national study will examine how various State Agencies successfully administer and provide effective program oversight. The study will consider program characteristics and location of various models as well as identify potential best practices and barriers to ensuring the integrity and effective management of program operations. The study results will help FNS identify what resources, training, or technical assistance may be necessary to provide State Agencies in their effective administration and monitoring of the SFSP. Data will be collected in 2021.


Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Ebt) Evaluation, 2019-2022

As noted above, the Summer EBT for Children demonstrations were authorized and funded by Congress in 2010 as a complement to traditional summer meal programs. Through a competitive solicitation, USDA selected and funded four multi-year Summer EBT projects. Of those selected, two had experience implementing Summer EBT and two were new to the demonstration project. This study will build off previous iterations of the Summer EBT Evaluation to examine the impact of the 2019 grantee projects on food insecurity and consumption of healthy food.


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Lilliana Geraldes, MS is a Graduate Student and Kim Spaccarotella, PhD is a Lecturer in Biology at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.