Are you on the cost-cutting bandwagon yet? I guess these days, it’s not so much a bandwagon as it is a necessary reality to stay afloat, but I digress. The point is – Saving Money. It’s the cool thing to do!

In my last cost-cutting post, we discussed ways to cut costs through efficient inventory management, so you can save that precious cash for your program. I’m sure you’re all too aware that program funds seem to be drying up left and right these days. Sometimes it seems like a downhill roller coaster that seemingly can never find its bottom.

With rising food costs, minimum wage increases, and more hungry mouths to feed, it’s hard to make financial ends meet. That’s why locating areas within your operation to cut costs is more important than ever before.

This week, I want to discuss ways to save money through Free and Reduced Application Processing.

It’s late September, so you’ve been accepting applications for a while now. Would you say that your program does this in an efficient manner? How does your district process apps – manually or digitally? With advancements in technology and innovative software solutions, you have the ability to automate a large portion of this often very tedious and time-consuming process.

Utilize Application Scanning Software

This is the first and most important box to check off when beginning to automate how your nutrition program processes free and reduced apps. Cost savings start here.

If parents in your school district are filling out paper forms, why pay for someone to spend hours and hours manually entering rows and rows of information, when a batch scan can accomplish the same amount of work in 30 minutes or less?

Application scanning is becoming the norm. Trust your fellow school nutrition professionals that the start-up investment in the technology and software will be well worth it when you see the overall long-term cost savings.

Online Applications For Instant Results

Feeling like taking your technology game to the next level? Utilizing online applications is for you! For programs that have been stuck in the stone ages of paper and pen, transitioning to online applications is a dream come true!

Online applications improve efficiencies even more than digital application scanning because there is literally no employee needed to process the bulk of these apps. With software that is approved by USDA FNS to issue an immediate reimbursement status to parents (PrimeroEdge Online Apps is a good place to start), you will not have to spend time printing and mailing letters. Think of the money you could save on paper, printer ink, and stamps! Not even taking into account the huge savings in labor hours; Time that can certainly be put to more productive use I’m sure!

One great way to encourage parents to submit an online application is to make a designated “Application Station” during open house or meet the teacher night. Tablets or computers can be made available on which parents can fill out an application for their child(ren).

When your program uses online applications, everyone wins! Parents know their child’s free or reduced status immediately. There is no lapse in eligibility coverage for the child while paperwork gets processed. Your office has less data entry to wade through, leaving time for more important tasks. WIN – WIN – WIN.

DC Matching All Day, Every Day

My last tip could be the biggest time saver for your district, depending on your size and student demographics. If your district historically is rather affluent and doesn’t have a large number of students who fall into the free and reduced categories, then Direct Certification matching may only save you a marginal amount of time (but it still saves time nonetheless, so I still highly recommend it! Save that time = Save that money!).

However, if you manage a school district in which there are high amounts of poverty and “free” eligible students, you should be doing a DC match as often as your state makes a new file available. For most states, a new file is generated on a monthly basis, but maybe you’re lucky and live in a state with a more frequent release schedule (if so, you lucky dog, you!). It’s important to know what that schedule is, and be ready to import the file into your system soon after its release.

Here’s a scenario for you: start with a huge, overwhelming pile of applications and imagine taking away a good chunk of them. All those applications that you just removed were the kids that were already DC matched. If you had run the match query against your student database first before having an employee manually enter all of the tedious application data into the system, you would have saved yourself SO. MUCH. TIME. Often a large number of applications that qualify as ‘free’ do fall under a DC match.

Additionally, it’s vitally important that you continually work your unmatched list looking for potential matches (similar names, nicknames, etc.) and sibling approvals or extensions. The more children that you can automatically approve through the DC matching process, the more time you save. In fact, I would argue that DC matching is essentially your biggest potential timesaver when maneuvering through student eligibility processing.

Do yourself and your staff a huge favor and make DC matching your new best friend. Save labor hours, and save your sanity while you’re at it!