School Meals and Other Child Nutrition Programs: Background and Funding

School Meals and Other Child Nutrition
April 1, 2021
Programs: Background and Funding
Kara Clifford Billings
The federal government has a long history of investing in programs for feeding children, starting
Analyst in Social Policy
with federal aid for school lunch programs in the 1930s. Today, federal child nutrition programs

support food served to children in schools and a variety of other institutional settings.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food and Nutrition Service

(FNS), child nutrition programs include the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School
Breakfast Program (SBP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Seamless
Summer Option (SSO), Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), and Special Milk Program (SMP).
The child nutrition programs vary in terms of size and target populations. The largest programs are NSLP and SBP (the
“school meals programs”), which subsidize meals for nearly 30 million children in approximately 95,000 elementary and
secondary schools in a typical year. Other child nutrition programs serve fewer children. CACFP supports meals served to
children in child care, day care, and afterschool settings; SFSP and SSO provide funding for summer meals; FFVP sponsors
fruit and vegetable snacks in elementary schools; and SMP s ubsidizes milk in schools and institutions that do not participate
in other child nutrition programs. In general, the largest subsidies are provided for free or reduced-price meals and snacks
served to children in low-income households. Other child nutrition activities include the NSLP Afterschool Snack option,
CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals option, Farm to School Grant Program, and Summer EBT demonstration.
Federal funding for child nutrition programs and activities totals approximately $25 billion in FY2021, the majority of which
is mandatory spending. Most child nutrition programs are considered “appropriated entitlements,” meaning that their
authorizing statutes establish a legal obligation to make payments, but that obligation is fulfilled through funding that is
provided in annual appropriations acts. Most of the funding is provided in the form of per-meal cash reimbursements that
states distribute to schools and institutions. A smaller amount of federal funding is provided in the form of federally
purchased commodity foods (USDA Foods) and cash for states’ administrative expenses.
The child nutrition programs are primarily governed by two statutes: the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and
the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 as amended. These laws were most recently reauthorized by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids
Act of 2010 (HHFKA, P.L. 111-296), which made several changes to the child nutrition programs. For example, the act
created the Community Eligibility Provision, an option for eligible schools to provide free mea ls to all students. It also
required USDA to update nutrition standards in the school meals programs and CACFP within a certain timeframe. Certain
provisions of the HHFKA expired at the end of FY2015. These expirations have had a minimal impact on program
operations, which continue with annual appropriations.
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Contents
Background.................................................................................................................... 1
Child Nutrition Funding ................................................................................................... 4
Federal Funding ........................................................................................................ 4
Per-Meal Cash Reimbursements ............................................................................. 5
Commodity Assistance .......................................................................................... 6
Administrative Funds............................................................................................ 7
Other Federal Funding .......................................................................................... 8
Nonfederal Funding ................................................................................................... 8
National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) ........................ 9
Administration ........................................................................................................ 11
Eligibility and Reimbursement .................................................................................. 13
Income Eligibility............................................................................................... 14
Categorical Eligibility ......................................................................................... 15
Verification of Eligibility ..................................................................................... 18
Reimbursement .................................................................................................. 19
Special Options ....................................................................................................... 20
Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) ................................................................. 20
Provisions 1, 2, and 3 .......................................................................................... 22
Nutrition Standards and Food Service ......................................................................... 23
Nutrition Standards for School Meals .................................................................... 23
Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods............................................................. 25
Local School Wel ness Policies............................................................................. 26
Other Food Service Topics ................................................................................... 26

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) .................................................................. 28
Administration ........................................................................................................ 29
Eligibility and Reimbursement .................................................................................. 30
CACFP Centers.................................................................................................. 30
CACFP Day Care Homes .................................................................................... 31
Nutrition Standards and Food Service ......................................................................... 32
Nutrition Standards............................................................................................. 32
Procurement and Meal Service ............................................................................. 32

Summer Meals ............................................................................................................. 33
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)....................................................................... 33
Administration ................................................................................................... 34
Eligibility and Reimbursement ............................................................................. 35
Nutrition Standards............................................................................................. 36
Procurement and Meal Service ............................................................................. 37
Seamless Summer Option ......................................................................................... 37
Summer EBT and Other Demonstration Projects .......................................................... 37
Special Milk Program (SMP) .......................................................................................... 38
After-School Meals and Snacks ....................................................................................... 39
CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals and Snacks ............................................................ 40
NSLP Afterschool Snacks ......................................................................................... 40

Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) ....................................................................... 41
Other Child Nutrition Activities....................................................................................... 42
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Farm to School Program ........................................................................................... 42
Institute of Child Nutrition ........................................................................................ 42
Team Nutrition ........................................................................................................ 42

Further Information ....................................................................................................... 43

Figures
Figure 1. NSLP and SBP Participation, FY2020................................................................. 11
Figure 2. Federal, State, and Local Roles in the School Meals Programs ................................ 12
Figure 3. Certification Pathways for Free and Reduced-Price School Meals ........................... 14
Figure 4. Community Eligibility Provision (CEP): Eligibility and Reimbursement .................. 22

Tables
Table 1. Major Child Nutrition Programs at a Glance ............................................................ 2
Table 2. Appropriations for Child Nutrition Programs and Selected Activities, FY2021.............. 5
Table 3. Example: NSLP School and Participant Benefits ...................................................... 6
Table 4. School Meals Income Eligibility Guidelines for a Household of Four ........................ 15
Table 5. Reimbursement Rates: NSLP and SBP ................................................................. 19
Table 6. Summary of the Nutrition Standards for School Lunches......................................... 24
Table 7. CACFP Participation: Centers and Day Care Homes, FY2020.................................. 29
Table 8. Reimbursement Rates: CACFP Centers and Day Care Homes .................................. 32
Table 9. Reimbursement Rates: SFSP ............................................................................... 36
Table 10. Reimbursement Rates: SMP .............................................................................. 39

Appendixes
Appendix. A Brief History of Federal Child Nutrition Programs ........................................... 44

Contacts
Author Information ....................................................................................................... 49


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Background
The child nutrition programs (listed in Table 1) support meals and snacks served to children in
schools, child care, summer programs, and other institutional settings in al 50 states, the District
of Columbia, and the U.S. territories.1 The programs are administered by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which provides federal aid to state
agencies (often state departments of education) for distribution to school districts and other
participating institutions.2 In general, the largest subsidies are provided for free and reduced-price
meals served to eligible children.3
The institutional nature of child nutrition programs distinguishes them from other federal
nutrition assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which
provide benefits directly to households. WIC is typical y reauthorized with the child nutrition
programs but is not considered a child nutrition program and is not discussed in this report.4
The federal child nutrition programs date back to the National School Lunch Act of 1946, which
created NSLP.5 The act formalized federal support for school lunches following early federal aid
beginning in the 1930s. Other child nutrition programs were added in the decades to follow as
policymakers expanded feeding programs beyond the school setting. The Child Nutrition Act of
1966 formalized SMP and created SBP as a pilot program.6 Soon after, a program for child care
and summer meals was piloted in 1968 and separated into the Child Care Food Program (now
CACFP) and SFSP in 1975.7 More recently, FFVP was piloted in 2002 and expanded to al states
in 2008.8 (See the Appendix for a brief legislative history of child nutrition programs.)
Historical y, the child nutrition programs have been aimed at both improving children’s nutrition
and supporting U.S. agriculture, with the dual missions “to safeguard the health and wel -being of

1 Virtually all of the child nutrition programs operate in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. T he use of the
term “state” in this report refers to these jurisdictions as well. T he term does not include the Northern Mariana Islands
and American Samoa, which receive block grants in lieu of child nutrition programs. For more information on child
nutrition programs in the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa, see U.S. Department of the Interior, Office
of Insular Affairs, Region IX Federal Regional Council, Outer Pacific Committee, FY2016 Report on Federal
Financial Assistance to the U.S. Pacific and Caribbean Islands
, May 1, 2017, p. 10, https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/
files/uploads/fy16-report -on-federal-financial-assistance-to-the-insular-areas.pdf.
2 In the past, the federal government (via USDA FNS’s regional offices) has, for certain states, taken the place of state
agencies (e.g., where a state has chosen not to operate a specific program or where there is a state prohibition on aiding
private schools).
3 In addition to serving children, CACFP supports food in adult day care facilities.
4 For more information on WIC, see CRS Report R44115, A Primer on WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition
Program for Wom en, Infants, and Children
.
5 P.L. 79-396; Gordon W. Gunderson, National School Lunch Program: Background and Development, 1971,
http://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/history. T he 1946 law supported school lunch programs by giving formula grant funding
to states based on factors such as per capita income, rather than the present -day open-ended entitlements based largely
on eligibility and participation rules.
6 P.L. 89-642.
7 P.L. 90-302; P.L. 94-105. Adult day care was added in 1987 (Older Americans Act Amendments of 1987; P.L. 100-
175). Also see Institute of Medicine, Child and Adult Care Food Program : Aligning Dietary Guidance for A ll, 2011, p.
30; USDA FNS, “ Summer Food Service Program History,” March 31, 2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/program-
history.
8 P.L. 107-171; P.L. 110-246.
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the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural
commodities and other food.”9
The child nutrition programs are currently authorized under the Richard B. Russel National
School Lunch Act (NSLA) and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.10 Section 32 of the Act of August
24, 1935, also provides a portion of child nutrition funding. Congressional jurisdiction over the
underlying three laws has typical y been exercised by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and
Forestry Committee, the House Education and Labor Committee, and, to a limited extent (relating
to Section 32), the House Agriculture Committee.
Congress periodical y amends the child nutrition programs’ authorizing laws and reauthorizes
expiring authorities. The child nutrition programs were most recently reauthorized by the Healthy,
Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA, P.L. 111-296). Some of the authorities created or
extended in the HHFKA expired on September 30, 2015; these expirations have had a minimal
impact on program operations.11 The 114th Congress began but did not complete a 2016 child
nutrition reauthorization, and there was no significant reauthorization activity in the 115th or 116th
Congresses.12
This report starts with an overview of child nutrition programs’ funding and then provides detail
on each program, including a discussion of how the programs are administered at the federal,
state, and local levels; eligibility rules for institutions and participants; nutritional and other
program requirements; and recent policy changes.
Table 1 provides a high-level summary of the child nutrition programs and the number of
participating institutions and children in FY2020. This was an atypical year of operations due to
the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and general y reflects lower participation
compared to recent years.
Table 1. Major Child Nutrition Programs at a Glance



Number of
Maximum
Average Daily
Participating
Authorizing
Daily Meals
Participation
Institutions
Program
Statute
Overview
and Snacksb
(FY2020)a
(FY2020)
National School
Richard B. Russel
Lunches served in schools to

One lunch
20.7 mil ion
94,600 schools
Lunch Program
National School
children in pre-K through
and one snack average daily
and 2,400
(NSLP)
Lunch Act (NSLA)
grade 12
per child
lunches and
residential child
(42 U.S.C. §1751 et
Options to provide
870,500 snacks
care
seq.)
afterschool snacks and
served
institutionsc
summer meals

9 See declaration of purposes in the NSLA and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.
10 In 1999, P.L. 106-78 renamed the National School Lunch Act in Senator Richard B. Russell’s honor.
11 A few pilot programs and temporary activities expired on September 30, 2015, and wer e not always extended. A
California program to provide SFSP snacks year-round was not extended. USDA’s authority to conduct food safety
audits and funding for a National Hunger Clearinghouse was not extended in FY2016 but was subsequently extended
by appropriations acts in each of FY2017 through FY2021. For more information, see CRS In Focus IF10266, Child
Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR): An Overview
or CRS memo CD1304737, Expiration of the Healthy, Hunger-free
Kids Act of 2010 (
P.L. 111-296), available to congressional clients on request.
12 For more information, see CRS Report R44373, Tracking Child Nutrition Reauthorization in the 114th Congress: An
Overview
.
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Number of
Maximum
Average Daily
Participating
Authorizing
Daily Meals
Participation
Institutions
Program
Statute
Overview
and Snacksb
(FY2020)a
(FY2020)
School
Section 4 of the
Breakfasts served in schools

One breakfast
11.4 mil ion
88,300 schools
Breakfast
Child Nutrition Act
to children in pre-K through
per child
average daily
and 2,400
Program (SBP)
of 1966 (42 U.S.C.
grade 12
breakfasts
residential child
§1773)
Option to provide summer
served
care
meals
institutionsc
Child and Adult
Section 17 of the
Meals/snacks served in child

Two meals
4.1 mil ion
139,000 child
Care Food
NSLA (42 U.S.C.
care and adult day care
and one
children and
care homes and
Program
§1766)
settings to children ages 12
snack, or one
107,800 adults
centers and
(CACFP)
and under, children with
meal and two
2,400 adult day
disabilities (any age), and
snacks per
care homes
chronical y impaired or elderly
participantd
adults
(afterschool
Eligible institutions can
component:
provide afterschool snacks to
one meal and
children ages 18 and under in
one snack per
low-income areas
child)
Summer Food
Section 13 of the
Summer meals/snacks served

Two meals, or 4.8 mil ion
37,800 meal
Service Program
NSLA (42 U.S.C.
in schools, community
one meal and
childrene,f
sitese
(SFSP)
§1761)
centers, camps, parks, and
one snack per
other settings to children ages
childd
18 and under
Special Milk
Section 3 of the
Milk served in schools and

Not specified
71,900 half-pints 3,500 schools
Program (SMP)
Child Nutrition Act
other institutions that do not
served on
and institutions
of 1966 (42 U.S.C.
participate in another child
average dailyg
§1772)
nutrition meal service
program
Fresh Fruit and
Section 19 of the
Fresh fruit and vegetable

Not applicable Not available
Not available
Vegetable
NSLA (42 U.S.C.
snacks served in elementary
Program (FFVP)
§1769a)
schools
Priority given to low-income
elementary schools
Source: USDA FNS, “March Keydata Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/march-keydata-report-november-2020-data. The number of meals and children is
rounded to the nearest hundred thousand; the number of participating institutions is rounded to the nearest
hundred. FY2020 was an atypical year of operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and general y reflects
lower participation compared to recent years.
a. Average daily participation is estimated by USDA based on the number of meals served and program
operating days. Estimates may be less reliable in FY2020 since operating days have varied during the
COVID-19 pandemic, and average daily meal counts are shown instead where available.
b. These maximums are provided in the authorizing law for CACFP and SFSP, but specified only in regulations
(7 C.F.R. §§210.10(a), 220.9(a)) for NSLP and SBP.
c. Per school meal regulations, “The term ‘residential child care institutions’ includes, but is not limited to:
homes for the mental y, emotional y or physical y impaired, and unmarried mothers and their infants; group
homes; halfway houses; orphanages; temporary shelters for abused children and for runaway children; long -
term care facilities for chronical y il children; and juvenile detention centers” (7 C.F.R. §210.2).
d. CACFP emergency shelters and SFSP camps and sites that primarily serve migrant children may receive
reimbursement for up to three meals or two meals and one snack per child daily.
e. SFSP data do not include children and sites participating in the school meals Seamless Summer Option
(SSO), which are included in the NSLP and SBP estimates.
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f.
According to a May 2018 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, estimates of participation
in SFSP may be unreliable because they have been calculated inconsistently across states and years. See
GAO, Actions Needed to Improve Participation Estimates and Address Program Chal enges, GAO-18-369, May
2018, https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-369.
g. Estimated by CRS based on the number of half pints served per month divided by an estimated 20 operating
days per month.
Child Nutrition Funding
Federal Funding
Most funding for child nutrition programs is considered mandatory spending. However, unlike
some mandatory programs, child nutrition programs require an appropriation of funding. This is
because the programs’ authorizing laws include benefit and eligibility criteria that create the
requirement for a certain level of spending, but the statute does not provide the funding directly.
Such programs are sometimes referred to as “appropriated entitlements” or “appropriated
mandatories.”13 If the necessary funds are not appropriated, entitled recipients (e.g., states,
institutions, and participants) may have legal recourse.14
The benefit and eligibility criteria that governs much of the appropriated mandatory spending for
child nutrition programs is open-ended. Because there is no specified limit on the number of
beneficiaries or the total amount of benefits that wil be paid, spending wil fluctuate based on the
number of meals and snacks served in the programs, as wel as statutorily set, annual y adjusted
per-meal reimbursement rates. Congress typical y considers USDA’s forecast for program needs
in its appropriations decisions.
Appropriated mandatory funding in child nutrition programs is general y for per-meal cash
reimbursements, commodity assistance, and administrative funds. The programs also have a
smal er amount of discretionary funding (provided in annual appropriations acts) and mandatory
funding directly provided in the authorizing law (not provided in annual appropriations acts).
These funding streams are discussed in further detail below.
Child nutrition appropriations totaled $25.1 bil ion in FY2021 (P.L. 116-94). Close to $21 bil ion
of these funds were transferred to the child nutrition programs from Section 32 of the Act of
August 24, 1935.15
Table 2 lists FY2021 child nutrition funding by program and activity. Child nutrition
appropriations may not match expenditures because most child nutrition funds carry over (they
are available for two fiscal years) and because spending fluctuates with the number of meals
served.

13 For further discussion of appropriated entitlements, see CRS Report RS20129, Entitlements and Appropriated
Entitlem ents in the Federal Budget Process
.
14 GAO Budget Glossary, p. 13, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-05-734SP.
15 House Rules Committee Print 116-68, explanatory statement accompanying Division A of the Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-94), December 21, 2020. Section 32 is a permanent appropriation of 30% of the
previous calendar year’s customs receipt s. For more information on Section 32, see CRS Report RL34081, Farm and
Food Support Under USDA’s Section 32 Program
.
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School Meals and Other Child Nutrition Programs: Background and Funding

Table 2. Appropriations for Child Nutrition Programs and Selected Activities,
FY2021
FY2021
Type of
Funding
Funding
($ in millions)

National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
AM
13,540
School Breakfast Program (SBP)
AM
5,039
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
AM
4,015
Commodity Procurement
AM
1,461
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
AM
552
State Administrative Expenses
AM
317
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
M
203
Summer Meal Demonstrations
D
42
School Meal Equipment Assistance Grants
D
30
Special Milk Program (SMP)
AM
7
Total (includes categories not shown)

25,118
Source: CRS, based on the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-94) and House Rules Committee
Print 116-68, explanatory statement accompanying Division A, December 21, 2020. Aside from FFVP, child
nutrition activities with mandatory funding (direct appropriations) are not included in the total.
Notes: AM = appropriated mandatory, M = mandatory spending provided in authorizing law, D = discretionary.
Figures rounded to the nearest mil ion.
Per-Meal Cash Reimbursements
The majority of federal funding in child nutrition programs (including in NSLP, SBP, CACFP,
SFSP, and SMP) takes the form of per-meal cash reimbursements. These rates are specified in the
programs’ authorizing laws with an annual inflation adjustment.16 Although al (including full-
price) meals/snacks served by participating providers are subsidized, those served for free or at a
reduced price to lower-income children earn higher rates. Meals must meet federal nutritional
requirements in order for the school or institution to receive reimbursement.17
Reimbursement rates differ by program based on different criteria. For example, in SBP, schools
in high-poverty areas receive an extra 37 cents per meal. Differences in reimbursement rates are
highlighted within the subsequent discussions of each program.
In general, FNS distributes per-meal reimbursements to state agencies, which distribute them to
participating schools and institutions. Schools and institutions must record daily counts of meals
in each category and report monthly counts to the state agency in order to receive reimbursement.

16 For more detail on how inflation adjustment is conducted, see the child nutrition program section of CRS Report
R42000, Inflation-Indexing Elem ents in Federal Entitlem ent Program s. Most reimbursements (including for schools
and child care centers) are indexed annually based on the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)
Food Away from Home Component. For family child care homes, the annual indexing is based on the CPI -U Food at
Home Component .
17 T he authorizing statutes for all four of the main child nutrition programs include nutritional requirements for the
meals and snacks served; these are sometimes referred to as “nutrition standards,” “nutrition guidelines,” or “meal
patterns.” T he nutrition standards differ by program in consideration of different age groups served and the settings in
which meals are served, among other factors. See program regulations for nutritional requirements: NSLP, 7 C.F.R.
§210.10; SBP, 7 C.F.R. §220.8; CACFP, 7 C.F.R. §226.20; SFSP, 7 C.F.R. §225.16.
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Once they receive federal funds, participating institutions are al owed to spend these funds on
most aspects of their food service operations.
Table 3 provides an example of the per-lunch reimbursement rate for schools and the per-child
benefit in NSLP. Reimbursement rates for each child nutrition program are listed in the sections
to follow.
Table 3. Example: NSLP School and Participant Benefits
NSLP Per-Lunch Reimbursement Rate and Per-Child Benefits, 48 Contiguous States and the
District of Columbia, School Year 2020-2021
What the School District
Receives (the national
average per-lunch
What the Participating
Meal Category
reimbursement rate)
Child Receives
Free
$3.51-$3.75
Free lunch
Reduced-price
$3.11-$3.35
Lunch for $0.40 or less
Paid
$0.33-$0.48
Lunch at ful price
Source: USDA FNS, “National School Lunch, Special Milk, and School Breakfast Programs, National Average
Payments/Maximum Reimbursement Rates,” July 22, 2020, 85 Federal Register 44270 (includes rates for Alaska,
Guam, Hawai , Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
Notes: Ranges reflect variations in reimbursement rates for lunches meeting certain statutory criteria.
Commodity Assistance
Federal support for child nutrition programs is also provided in the form of USDA-purchased
commodity foods (“USDA Foods”) and some cash in lieu of commodities. USDA Foods are
foods purchased by USDA for distribution to federal nutrition assistance programs, including
child nutrition programs.18
States, schools, and other institutions are entitled to a certain amount of commodity assistance
under the law, referred to as “entitlement commodity” assistance. In NSLP and CACFP, statute
provides a per-meal commodity reimbursement (an inflation-adjusted rate of 25 cents per meal in
school year 2020-2021).19 (Note: Commodity assistance is not a formal part of SBP funding;
however, commodities distributed through NSLP may be used for school breakfasts.) A smal er
amount of commodity assistance is also provided to certain types of institutions participating in
SFSP.20

18 For a summary, see USDA FNS, “USDA Foods in Schools,” https://www.fns.usda.gov/usda-fis.
19 In recent years, an additional 10 cents (approximately) has been provided on top of this amount. Section 6(c) of the
NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1755(c)) and Section 17(h)(1)(B) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1766(h)(1)(B)); USDA FNS, “Food
Distribution Program: Value of Donated Foods From July 1, 2020, T hrough June 30, 2021,” 85 Federal Register
44273, July 22, 2020, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/12/2019-17156/food-distribution-program-
value-of-donated-foods-from-july-1-2019-through-june-30-2020.
20 Section 13(h) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1761(h)). Per program regulations, SFSP sponsor organizations
eligible for commodity assistance include “ Self-preparation sponsors; sponsors which have entered into an agreement
with a school or school food authority for the preparation of meals; and sponsors which are school food authorities and
have competitively procured Program meals from the same food service management company from which they
competitively procured meals for the National School Lunch Program during the last period in which school was in
session.” (7 C.F.R. §225.9(b)). Statute does not specify the level of entitlement commodity funding for SFSP.
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School Meals and Other Child Nutrition Programs: Background and Funding

Schools and institutions use entitlement commodity funds to select commodities from a USDA
Foods catalog.21 USDA then purchases the commodities and works with a state distribution
agency to distribute the foods to schools. Schools/institutions and state agencies can elect to
receive a certain amount of commodity assistance in the form of cash, as the majority of CACFP
centers do.22
According to statute, entitlement commodity assistance must equal at least 12% of the total
funding provided for lunch reimbursements and child nutrition commodities.23 The majority of
commodity assistance is distributed through NSLP.24
The child nutrition programs can also receive “bonus commodities,” which are commodities that
are purchased at USDA’s discretion throughout the year to support the agricultural economy
using separate budget authority. In recent years, there have been few bonus commodities
distributed to the child nutrition programs; however, there was an uptick in FY2019 and
FY2020.25
Administrative Funds
State agencies receive federal funds for expenses related to the administration of child nutrition
programs. According to statute, federal funding for states’ administrative expenses must equal at
least 1.5% of federal expenditures on NSLP, SBP, CACFP, and SMP in the second preceding
fiscal year.26 The majority of these funds are al ocated to states based on their share of spending
on the four programs. Any remaining funds are al ocated by the Secretary of Agriculture on a
discretionary basis; per program regulations, states receive additional amounts for CACFP,
commodity distribution, and administrative reviews of schools/institutions.27 Once states receive

21 For a list of products offered in school year 2020-2021, see USDA FNS, “USDA Foods Available List for SY20-21,”
https://www.fns.usda.gov/usda-foods/usda-foods-expected-be-available. Under a Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits
and Vegetables authorized by the 2014 farm bill (§4202 of P.L. 113-79) under Section 6(f) of the NSLA (codified at 42
U.S.C. §1755(f)), USDA may allow up to eight states to use a portion of their commodity assistance dollars to purchase
unprocessed fruits and vegetables from suppliers outside of the federal USDA Foods supply chain. For a list of
participating school districts, see USDA FNS, “ Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables,”
https://www.fns.usda.gov/usda-fis/pilot -project -procurement -unprocessed-fruits-and-vegetables.
22 School food authorities participating in NSLP may elect to receive up to 5 cents of the per-lunch commodity subsidy
in the form of cash for processing and handling expenses (per program regulations at 7 C.F.R. §240.5). Kansas receives
cash payments in lieu of USDA Foods as a result of the National School Lunch Act and Child Nutrition Act
amendments of 1975. In CACFP, states may request any amount of cash -in-lieu of commodities per Section
17(h)(1)(D) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(h)(1)(D)).
23 Section 6(e) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1755(e)). Not less than 12% of the assistance provided under
Section 6 (commodity assistance) and Section 4 and Section 11 (NSLP cash reimbursements) of the NSLA must be
provided as Section 6 commodity assistance. Prior to FY2018, bonus commodity assistance was allowed to count
toward this requirement.
24 Entitlement commodity assistance totaled $1.3 billion in NSLP, $132 million in CACFP, and $1.2 million in SFSP in
FY2020. USDA FNS, “March Keydata Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/
data/march-keydata-report-november-2020-data.
25 T here was $5.7 million in bonus commodities delivered through child nutrition programs in FY2019 and $16.6
million in FY2020. USDA FNS, “November Keydata Report (September 2019 data),” December 13, 2019,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/november-keydata-report -september-2019-data; USDA FNS, “ March Keydata Report
(November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/march-keydata-report-november-2020-data.
26 Section 7 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1776).
27 7 C.F.R. §235.4.
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administrative funds, they can apportion them among child nutrition programs and activities as
they see fit.28
In addition, states receive separate administrative payments through SFSP that equal at least 2.5%
of their summer meal aid.29 States may also retain a portion of FFVP aid for their administrative
expenses.30
At the local level, schools and institutions may use per-meal reimbursements to cover their
administrative costs.31 In CACFP, institutions that oversee day care homes receive separate
monthly payments for administrative expenses based on the number of day care homes under
their jurisdiction.32
Other Federal Funding
A few child nutrition programs and activities have mandatory funding provided directly in the
authorizing law. For example, FFVP receives mandatory funding from Section 32 and the Farm to
School Grant Program receives mandatory funding under the NSLA.33
There are also a few child nutrition activities that are funded on a discretionary basis, including
the Summer EBT demonstration, the Team Nutrition initiative, and school meals equipment
grants.
Nonfederal Funding
Federal subsidies do not necessarily cover the full cost of meals and snacks prepared by schools
and institutions. Child nutrition programs may also receive funds from participants, states, school
districts, local governments, and other entities. NSLP is the only child nutrition program with a
cost sharing requirement for states, which amounts to a contribution of roughly $200 mil ion from
al states combined annual y.34 Some states provide additional funding for NSLP and other child
nutrition programs beyond the required amount, including some states that provide their own per-
meal reimbursements.35

28 7 C.F.R. §235.6.
29 Section 13(k)(1) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1761(k)(1)); 7 C.F.R. §225.5.
30 Section 19 of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1769(i)(6)(B)).
31 In SFSP, reimbursements are broken out into two components: an operating component and administrative
component. Reimbursements in the other child nutrition programs do not make this distinction.
32 Section 17(f)(3)(B) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(f)(3)(B)); 7 C.F.R. §226.12.
33 Other child nutrition activities with mandatory funding include Food Safety Education, Coordinated Review,
Computer Support, T raining and T echnical Assistance, studies, payment accuracy, and Farm to School T eam. See p.
32-13 of FY2020 USDA FNS Congressional Budget Justification, available at https://www.obpa.usda.gov/
32fns2020notes.pdf.
34 Section 7(a)(1) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1756(a)(1)). T he required contribution in NSLP equals 30% of
Section 4 funds (the NSLP base reimbursement) made available to states in school year 1980 -1981 (not inflation
adjusted), which was $200 million according to U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and
Forestry, Child Nutrition Program s: Description, History, Issues, and Options, committee print, 98th Cong., 1st Sess.,
January 1983, S. Prt. 98-15 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1983), p. 8. States must also maintain level funding to the amount
expended in FY1977 for state administrative expenses associated with NSLP, SBP, and SMP, per Section 7(f) of Child
Nutrition Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1776(f)).
35 T he School Nutrition Association, a trade association representing school meal operators, tracks state policies and
funding at https://schoolnutrition.org/LegislationPolicy/StateLegislationPolicyReports/.
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An FNS study of the school meals programs in school year 2014-2015 found that 63% of school
food service revenues came from federal funds, 30% came from student payments for paid and
reduced-price meals and other school foods, and 6% came from state and local funds.36
Child Nutrition Program Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Starting in March 2020 and continuing in school year 2020-2021, many school districts and nonprofit organizations
have been operating the summer meals programs, which, per existing program regulations and guidance, can
operate during “unanticipated school closures.”37 Other school districts have continued operating the school
meals programs, which USDA clarified could operate during periods of virtual learning.38
With expanded waiver authority and supplemental funding from COVID-19 response acts, USDA has also waived
several child nutrition program requirements during the pandemic.39 For example, USDA has al owed states and
providers to serve meals free of charge to al children without an eligibility test, parent pick-up and home delivery
of meals, and virtual monitoring of program operations.40
For more information about child nutrition program operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, see

CRS Report R46681, USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic; and

USDA Food and Nutrition Service, “Child Nutrition COVID-19 Waivers,”
www.fns.usda.gov/programs/fns-disaster-assistance/fns-responds-covid-19/child-nutrition-covid-19-
waivers.
National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School
Breakfast Program (SBP)
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) (the “school
meals programs”) provide federal support for meals served in approximately 94,600 public and
private elementary and secondary schools nationwide as of FY2020.41 They also support meals in
a smal er number of residential child care institutions.42 Schools receive federal aid in the form of

36 USDA FNS, School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study, Final Report Volume 3: School Meal Costs and Revenues,
Office of Policy Support, April 2019, p. 43, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-nutrition-and-meal-cost-study.
37 7 C.F.R. §§225.6(b)(4) and 225.14(a).
38 USDA, FNS, “COVID-19 Congregate Meal Waivers & Q&As on Summer Meal Delivery Using Existing
Authority,” April 4, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/covid-19/covid-19-meal-delivery.
39 For child nutrition waiver authorities, see Section 12(l) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act
(codified at 42 U.S.C. §1760(l)) and Sections 2102 -2202 of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA; P.L.
116-127).
40 For a list of child nutrition program waivers that USDA has issued during the pandemic, see USDA FNS, “Child
Nutrition COVID-19 Waivers,” https://www.fns.usda.gov/programs/fns-disaster-assistance/fns-responds-covid-19/
child-nutrition-covid-19-waivers.
41 In FY2020, 94,582 schools participated in NSLP and 88,307 schools participated in SBP (with substantial overlap),
according to USDA FNS, “March Keydata Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/
data/march-keydata-report-november-2020-data. This includes nearly 4,600 private schools participating in NSLP and
2,800 private schools participating in SBP, according to CRS communication with FNS on March 22, 2021.
42 In FY2020, approximately 2,400 residential child care institutions (RCCIs) participated in NSLP. T his report refers
to “schools,” but it should be understood that for NSLP and SBP, it means both schools and RCCIs. RCCIs are defined
as follows in school meal program regulations: “ T he term ‘residential child care institutions’ includes, but is not limited
to: homes for the mentally, emotionally or physically impaired, and unmarried mothers and their infants; group homes;
halfway houses; orphanages; temporary shelters for abused children and for runaway children; long-term care facilities
for chronically ill children; and juvenile detention centers. A long-term care facility is a hospital, skilled nursing
facility, intermediate care facility, or distinct part thereof, which is intended for the care of children confined for 30
days or more.” (7 C.F.R. §210.2). Nonresidential child care centers are eligible to participate in CACFP.
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cash reimbursements for every meal they serve that meets federal nutritional requirements
(limited to one breakfast and lunch per child daily). The largest subsidies are provided for free
and reduced-price meals served to eligible students based on income eligibility and categorical
eligibility rules. Schools also receive a certain amount of commodity assistance per lunch served
(discussed previously). Schools participating in NSLP have the option of providing afterschool
snacks through the program, and schools participating in NSLP or SBP have the option of
providing summer meals and snacks through the Seamless Summer Option (discussed in the
“After-School Meals and Snacks” and “Seamless Summer Option” sections).
Schools are not required by federal law to participate in NSLP or SBP; however, some states
require schools to have a school lunch and/or breakfast program, and some states require schools
to do so through NSLP and/or SBP. Some states also provide state funding for the school meals
programs.43 Schools that do not participate in the federal school meals programs may stil operate
local y funded meal programs.44
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA; P.L. 111-296) made several changes to the
school meals programs. Among those changes was a requirement that USDA update the nutrition
standards for school meals and create new nutritional requirements for foods sold in NSLP and
SBP schools within a certain timeframe. The law also created the Community Eligibility
Provision, through which eligible schools can provide free meals to al students. These changes
are discussed further within this section.
NSLP and SBP are two separate programs, and schools can choose to operate one and not the
other. The programs are discussed together in this report because they share many of the same
requirements. Differences between the programs are noted where applicable.
Figure 1 displays average daily participation in NSLP and SBP in participating schools.
Participation in SBP tends to be lower for several reasons, including the traditional y required
early arrival by students in order to receive a meal before school starts.

43 T he School Nutrition Association, a trade association representing school meal operators, tracks state policies and
funding at https://schoolnutrition.org/LegislationPolicy/StateLegislationPolicyReports/.
44 T here is limited research on schools that opt out of the federal school meals programs. An older (1993) GAO
analysis found that smaller and wealthier schools were more likely to drop out of NSLP. GAO found that common
reasons for departure included financial considerations and compliance with federal nutrition standards. See GAO,
Schools That Left the National School Lunch Program , December 1993, https://www.gao.gov/assets/80/78774.pdf.
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Figure 1. NSLP and SBP Participation, FY2020
Number of Children Participating in NSLP and SBP by Eligibility Category

Source: USDA FNS, “March Keydata Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/march-keydata-report-november-2020-data.
Notes: FY2020 was an atypical year of operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reflects lower school
meal participation compared to recent years. Participation estimated by USDA FNS based on average daily meals
served. Figure reflects participation at schools and residential child care institutions operating NSLP and/or SBP.
Children may participate in both SBP and NSLP in schools that operate both programs. Al children in
Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) schools are counted as free meal participants.
Administration
Local y, the school meals programs are usual y administered by school districts. Statute and
regulations designate school food authorities as the local authorities in charge of operating the
school meal programs; typical y, these are food service departments within school districts.45
Local educational agencies—the broader school district or school board—also play a role in
administering the school meal programs.46 This report sometimes uses the term school district to
refer to the local administrative body of the school meals programs.
In general, school food authorities handle food service and accounting responsibilities, such as
food preparation and tracking meals for reimbursement, while local educational agencies handle
administrative duties, such as processing applications and certifying children for free and
reduced-price school meals.
At the state level, the school meals programs are most often administered by state departments of
education.47 State administrative agencies are responsible for distributing federal reimbursements

45 See definitions of school food authority and local educational agencies at 7 C.F.R. §210.2 and 7 C.F.R. §220.2.
46 Ibid.
47 For a list of state administrative agencies, see https://www.fns.usda.gov/contacts.
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to school food authorities and overseeing school districts’ administration of the school meal
programs, including by conducting administrative reviews of school districts.48
At the federal level, FNS provides ongoing guidance and technical assistance to state agencies
and school food authorities through seven regional offices. FNS also provides oversight of state
agencies, including by conducting management evaluations.49
Figure 2 depicts the federal, state, and local roles in administering the school meals programs.
Figure 2. Federal, State, and Local Roles in the School Meals Programs

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), USDA Has Reported Taking Some Steps to Reduce
Improper Payments but Should Comprehensively Assess Fraud Risks
, GAO-19-389, May 2019, p. 4.

48 Section 22(b)(1)(C)(i) of the NLSA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1769c(b)(1)(C)(i)). HHFKA required states to “conduct
audits and reviews during a three-year cycle or other period prescribed by the Secretary.” Regulations require reviews
once every three years, with the potential for a one-year extension (a four-year cycle) (7 C.F.R. §210.18(c)). On
February 22, 2019, USDA published a policy memorandum (SP 12-2019, Flexibility for the Adm inistrative Review
Cycle Requirem ent
, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/flexibility-administrative-review-cycle-requirement ) that
allows state agencies to request a waiver to extend the review cycle for up to two additional years (a five-year cycle).
49 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), USDA Has Reported Taking Some Steps to Reduce Improper
Paym ents but Should Com prehensively Assess Fraud Risks,
GAO-19-389, May 2019, p. 7.
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Eligibility and Reimbursement
The school meals programs do not exclusively serve low-income children. Any student in an
NSLP or SBP participating school may purchase a school meal; however, children must meet
program eligibility rules in order to receive a free or reduced-price meal.
In most schools (excluding schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision or
other special options), children are certified for free or reduced-price school meals through one of
two pathways: (1) income eligibility for free and reduced-price meals (information typical y
collected via household application) and (2) categorical eligibility for free meals (information
collected via household application or direct certification). Each year, schools must verify a
sample of household applications for accuracy. The pathways through which children are certified
for free or reduced-price school meals are shown in Figure 3.
If children are certified for free meals, the school food authority (through the state agency)
receives the free meal reimbursement for those meals. If children are certified for reduced-price
meals, the school food authority receives a slightly lower reimbursement. School food authorities
also receive a much smal er paid-rate reimbursement for meals served to children who pay for
“full price” meals. School food authorities must follow federal guidelines in setting the price of
paid meals.50
Certain schools follow different eligibility and reimbursement procedures because they
participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or other spec ial options (discussed
below in the “Special Options” section).

50 T he HHFKA set requirements around the price of paid meals, amending Section 12(p) of the NSLA (codified at 42
U.S.C. §1760(p)). However, appropriations laws in FY2018 and FY2019 waived these requirements for many schools.
For more information, see CRS Report R45486, Child Nutrition Program s: Issues in the 115th Congress, and FNS paid
lunch equity guidance for school year 2018-2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/paid-lunch-equity-guidance-
school-year-2018-19.
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Figure 3. Certification Pathways for Free and Reduced-Price School Meals
Household Application and Direct Certification Processes

Source: CRS adaptation of figure from U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), School Meals Programs:
USDA Has Enhanced Controls, but Additional Verification Could Help Ensure Legitimate Program Access, GAO-
14-262, May 2014, p. 13.
Notes: Direct certification of children in Medicaid demonstration states for reduced-price meals is not depicted
in this graphic. SNAP = Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, FPG = Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Income Eligibility
Children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals if their household’s income fal s within the
following ranges:
Free meals: household income at or below 130% of the federal poverty
guidelines.51
Reduced-price meals (charges of no more than 40 cents per lunch and 30 cents
per breakfast): household income above 130% and less than or equal to 185% of
the federal poverty guidelines.52
These thresholds are based on the annual federal poverty guidelines established by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, and are updated annual y for inflation. FNS publishes
the corresponding income limits by household size for free and reduced-price meals in the

51 For the purposes of school meal eligibility, household is defined as “ a group of related or nonrelated individuals, who
are not residents of an institution or boarding house, but who are living as one economic unit” (7 C.F.R. §245.2).
52 Section 9(b)(1) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1758(b)(1).
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Federal Register on an annual basis.53 Table 4 provides an example of the income limits for free
and reduced-price meals in school year 2020-2021 for a household of four.
To become income eligible for school meals, a parent or guardian must complete a paper or
online application that includes the income of each household member, the household size, and
other information.54 Household income is defined as total gross income (before taxes or
deductions), including earnings and wages, certain public assistance benefits (such as
unemployment compensation, social security benefits, and child support payments), and
retirement and pension income.55 Households are asked to provide current weekly, biweekly,
twice monthly, or monthly income, which school district officials compare to the federal poverty
guidelines to determine eligibility for free meals, reduced-price meals, or neither.56 Households
only need to fil out one application if they have multiple children in the same school district.
Table 4. School Meals Income Eligibility Guidelines for a Household of Four
For the 48 Contiguous States and the District of Columbia, School Year 2020-2021

Income Eligibility

Threshold
(% of the federal
Annual Income for a
Meal Type
poverty level)
Household of Four
Free
Less than or equal to 130%
Less than or equal to $34,060
Reduced-price
Greater than 130% and less
Greater than $34,060 and less
than or equal to 185%
than or equal to $48,470
Paid
N/A
N/A
Source: USDA FNS, “Child Nutrition Programs: Income Eligibility Guidelines,” 85 Federal Register 16050, March
20, 2020.
Note: This school year is defined as July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. For other years, household sizes,
Alaska, and Hawai , see USDA FNS’s website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/income-eligibility-guidelines.
Categorical Eligibility
As an alternative to income eligibility, children can become eligible for free school meals if they
fal into a certain category (“categorical eligibility”). Per statute, children are automatical y
eligible for free lunches and breakfasts (without consideration of household income) if they are
 in a household receiving benefits through the following programs:
 SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program);

53 USDA FNS, “Child Nutrition Programs: Income Eligibility Guidelines,” 85 Federal Register 16050, March 20,
2020.
54 T here is a requirement that the adult household member filling out the application provide the last four digits of
his/her Social Security number (Section 9(d)(1) of the NSLA), or, according to program regulations, indicate that they
do not have one (7 C.F.R. §245.6(a)(6)). T he law does not allow for citizenship eligibility restrictions; Section 742(a)
of P.L. 104-193 states that individuals who are eligible for free public education benefits under state an d local law shall
remain eligible to receive school lunch and school breakfast benefits.
55 7 C.F.R. §245.6(a)(5)(ii). Also see USDA FNS, “Child Nutrition Programs: Income Eligibility Guidelines,” 85
Federal Register 16050, March 20, 2020, USDA FNS, Eligibility Manual for School Meals: Determ ining an d Verifying
Eligibility
, July 2017, https://www.fns.usda.gov/eligibility-manual-school-meals, and USDA FNS, “ Applying for Free
and Reduced Price School Meals,” https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/applying-free-and-reduced-price-school-meals.
56 Ibid. Households are asked to report this income for the most recent period prior to the application, unless it does not
reflect their typical income, in which case they can provide the amount of income they normally receive in a month.
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 FDPIR (Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, a program that
operates in lieu of SNAP on some Indian reservations); or
 TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families);
 enrolled in Head Start;
 in foster care;
 a migrant;
 a runaway; or
 homeless.57
Categorical eligibility for free meals may be determined via a household application (households
provide a case number on the application) or through direct certification (discussed in the next
section). As of school year 2014-2015, the vast majority of categorical y eligible children were
certified for free meals through direct certification.58
Categorical eligibility for free school meals with SNAP and TANF began in the 1980s (then, the
Food Stamp and Aid to Families with Dependent Children programs, respectively).59 Categorical
eligibility enabled schools to make use of other programs’ more in-depth certification processes
and reduced the number of applications that families had to fil out.60 Other programs and
categories were added over time.
Direct Certification
Direct certification is a process through which state agencies and school districts automatical y
certify children for free meals based on documentation of the child’s status in a program or
category without the need for a household application.61 States are required to conduct direct
certification for SNAP and have the option of conducting direct certification for the other
programs and categories that convey categorical eligibility.
For SNAP and other federal programs, the direct certification process typical y involves state
agencies (e.g., state SNAP and state educational agencies) cross-checking program rolls.62 A list
of matched children is sent to the school district, which certifies children for free meals without

57 See Section 9(b)(12)(A) of the Russell National School Lunch Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1758(b)(12)(A)), for the
more specific definitions of these categories. SNAP, FDPIR, and T ANF have income limits, but the other qualifications
as defined in the statute are not limited by income.
58 Quinn Moore, Kevin Conway, and Brandon Kyler, et al., Direct Certification in the National School Lunch
Program : State Im plem entation Progress, School Year 2014 -2015, Report to Congress
, Mathematica Policy Research
for USDA FNS, CN-15-DC, October 2016, p. 24, https://www.fns.usda.gov/direct-certification-national-school-lunch-
program-report -congress-state-implementation-progress-0.
59 USDA FNS, Direct Certification in the National School Lunch Program: State Implementation Progress: Report to
Congress,
December 2008, p. 3, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/DirectCert08.pdf.
60 See, for example, U.S. Government Accountability Office, School-Meals Programs: USDA Has Enhanced Controls,
but Additional Verification Could Help Ensure Legitim ate Program Access
, GAO-14-262, May 2014, pp. 16-19,
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-262.
61 Direct certification authority is in Section 9(b)(4)-(5) of the Russell National School Lunch Act (codified at 42
U.S.C. §1758(b)(4)-(5)). Direct certification is defined in NSLP/SBP program regulations at 7 C.F.R. §245.2.
62 USDA FNS, Direct Certification in the National School Lunch Program: State Implementation Progress, School
Year 2014–2015: Report to Congress, Office of Policy Support, Special Nutrition Programs Report No. CN-15-DC,
December 2016, p. xiii, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/NSLPDirectCertification2015.pdf.
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the need for a household application.63 For foster, homeless, migrant, and runaway children,
direct certification typical y involves school district communication with a local or state official
who can provide documentation of the child’s status in one of these categories.64
The 2004 child nutrition reauthorization act (P.L. 108-265) required states to conduct direct
certification with SNAP, with nationwide implementation taking effect in school year 2008-2009.
As of school year 2016-2017 (the most recent data available), USDA reported that 92% of
children in SNAP households were directly certified for free school meals.65
The HHFKA made further policy changes to expand direct certification. One of those changes
was the initiation of a demonstration project to test direct certification with Medicaid (see text
box). The law also funded performance incentive grants for high-performing states and
authorized corrective action plans for low-performing states in direct certification activities.66

63 However, parents and guardians are notified of the child’s enrollment in free meals and are allowed to opt -out.
64 USDA FNS, Eligibility Manual for School Meals: Determining and Verifying Eligibility, July 2017,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/eligibility-manual-school-meals.
65 USDA FNS, Direct Certification in the National School Lunch Program Report to Congress: State Implementation
Progress, School Year 2015-2016 and 2016-2017
, November 2018, https://www.fns.usda.gov/direct -certification-
national-school-lunch-program-report -congress-state-implementation-progress-1.
66 See CRS Report R41354, Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization: P.L. 111-296, for further discussion of these
and related policies.
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Direct Certification with Medicaid Demonstration
The HHFKA initiated a demonstration project to conduct direct certification of children individual y participating
in Medicaid and children in Medicaid households. Unlike the other programs used to directly certify children for
school meals, Medicaid does not convey categorical eligibility for free school meals, but rather identifies children in
households that would meet the income eligibility thresholds for free or reduced-price school meals.67
Fol owing the demonstration authority in the HHFKA as wel as FNS’s standing pilot authority, some states are
currently directly certifying children based on Medicaid data. As of school year 2020-2021, there were 19 states
operating direct certification with Medicaid. Four of the states (Il inois, Kentucky, New York, and Pennsylvania)
used Medicaid to directly certify for free meals only (130% of the poverty level or below). Fifteen states
(California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Virginia,
Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin) were operating under an expanded direct certification demonstration
project to test direct certification with Medicaid for free and reduced-price meals (up to 185% of the poverty
level).68
FNS published evaluations of the demonstration project in 2019 and 2020.69 The evaluations found that in states
with available data, direct certification with Medicaid led to more children being certified through direct
certification rather than application, and to some newly certified children. The 2020 evaluation also found that
state administrative costs were “modest” during start-up and declined over time.70
Verification of Eligibility
Each fal , districts are required to verify a sample of approved household applications on file,
with a focus on applications close to the eligibility threshold (“error-prone” applications).71
School districts may also conduct verification of questionable applications. Verification is not
required for children who are directly certified for free or reduced-price meals. (Note that districts
participating in “Provisions 1, 2, and 3” (discussed below) must meet verification requirements
for the years in which they administer household applications.)
Many districts employ “direct verification” (matching data from other low-income programs) to
conduct their verification activities, but if data cannot be verified in this way, schools must
contact households to verify the information provided on the application. A child’s eligibility
status may stay the same or change (e.g., from free meals to reduced-price meals or loss of
eligibility) as a result of verification of household income, or if the household does not respond to
verification outreach (in which case eligibility would be lost, though that decision can be
appealed).

67 USDA FNS, “Request for Applications to Participate in Demonstration Projects to Evaluate Direct Certification with
Medicaid,” January 27, 2016, https://www.medicaid.gov/federal-policy-guidance/downloads/cib-02-12-16.pdf.
68 CRS communication with FNS in March 2021.
69 USDA FNS, Final Report: Direct Certification with Medicaid for Free and Reduced -Price Meals (DCMF/RP)
Dem onstration, Year 1
, Mathematica Policy Research, August 2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/evaluation-direct-
certification-medicaid-free-and-reduced-price-meals; USDA FNS, Direct Certification with Medicaid for Free and
Reduced-Price Meals (DCM-F/RP) Dem onstration, Year 2
, Mathematica Policy Research, September 2020,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/evaluation-direct-certification-medicaid-free-and-reduced-price-meals-dcm-frp.
70 Ibid.
71 In general, local educational agencies must review the smallest of 3,000 of all applications or 3% of error -prone
applications. If the local educational agency has a nonresponse rate below 20% or has more than 20,000 children
approved by application for free/reduced-price meals and a recently improved response rate, they may use alternative
sampling approaches. See Section 9(b)(3)(D) of the NSLA or program regulations at 7 C.F.R. §245.6a.
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Reimbursement
School food authorities must keep track of the daily number of meals they serve in each category
(free, reduced-price, and paid) that meet federal nutrition requirements. School food authorities
then submit claims for reimbursement to the state agency, which submits the claims to FNS.
Approved reimbursements are distributed to school food authorities by the state agency, usual y
on a monthly basis. Per statute, reimbursement rates are adjusted for inflation annual y.72 Table 5
shows NSLP and SBP reimbursement rates in school year 2020-2021. (Note that school food
authorities also receive a per-lunch commodity reimbursement, discussed previously.)
The law provides a higher reimbursement rate for meals meeting certain criteria. For example,
school food authorities that are compliant with the updated federal nutrition standards for school
meals receive an additional 7 cents per lunch.73 School food authorities also receive an additional
2 cents per lunch if they serve 60% or more of their lunches at a free or reduced price. For
breakfasts, school food authorities receive higher reimbursements if they serve 40% or more
lunches at a free or reduced price (referred to as “severe need” schools).
Once school food authorities receive the cash reimbursements, they can use the funds to support
almost any aspect of the school food service operation. However, federal cash reimbursements
must go into a nonprofit school food service account that is subject to federal regulations.74
Payments for non-program foods (e.g., vending machine sales) must also accrue to the nonprofit
school food service account.75
FNS periodical y studies the costs of producing a reimbursable meal. In April 2019, FNS released
a School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study, which found that the average reported cost of producing
a reimbursable lunch was $3.81 in school year 2014-2015 (reported costs were defined as those
charged to the school food service account).76 This exceeded the average federal cash
reimbursement ($3.32) for lunches in school year 2014-2015. When unreported costs were
included (costs outside of the food service account; for example, labor costs associated with
processing applications), the cost of producing the average reimbursable lunch was $6.02. As
noted previously, children’s payments and state and local funds may also cover meal costs.
Table 5. Reimbursement Rates: NSLP and SBP
Per-Meal Reimbursements for the 48 Contiguous States and the District of Columbia,
School Year 2020-2021
School Food
Authorities
Bonus for SFAs
(SFAs) That
Certified as
Served Less Than
SFAs That Served
Compliant with
Lunch
60% of Lunches at
60%+ Lunches at
Nutrition
Maximum
Rate
F/RP
F/RP
Standards
Rate
Free
$3.51
$3.53
+$0.07
$3.75

72 See Section 4 and Section 11 of the NSLA for the lunch reimbursement rates and Section 4 of the Child Nutrition
Act of 1966 for breakfast reimbursement rates.
73 T he Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-296) provided an additional 6 cents per-lunch reimbursement
(adjusted annually for inflation) to schools meeting the updated nutritio nal guidelines requirements. T he inflation-
adjusted rate for school year 2019-2020 is 7 cents.
74 7 C.F.R. §210.14.
75 Section 12(p) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1760(q)).
76 USDA FNS, School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study, Final Report Volume 3: School Meal Costs and Revenues,
Office of Policy Support, April 2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-nutrition-and-meal-cost -study.
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School Food
Authorities
Bonus for SFAs
(SFAs) That
Certified as
Served Less Than
SFAs That Served
Compliant with
Lunch
60% of Lunches at
60%+ Lunches at
Nutrition
Maximum
Rate
F/RP
F/RP
Standards
Rate
Reduced-price
$3.11
$3.13
+$0.07
$3.35
Paid
$0.33
$0.35
+$0.07
$0.48
Breakfast
SFAs That Served Less Than 40% of
SFAs That Served 40%+ Lunches
Rate
Lunches at F/RP
at F/RP
Free
$1.89
$2.26
Reduced-price
$1.59
$1.96
Paid
$0.32
$0.32
Source: USDA FNS, “National School Lunch, Special Milk, and School Breakfast Programs, National Average
Payments/Maximum Reimbursement Rates,” July 22, 2020, 85 Federal Register 44270 (separately lists rates for
Alaska, Guam, Hawai , Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). For historical rates, see
https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/rates-reimbursement.
Notes: F/RP = free or reduced-price. The percentage of lunches/breakfasts served at F/RP is based on the
percentage of meals served two school years prior. The federal per-meal reimbursement rates are averages.
States can apportion funds among school food authorities above or below the average rates depending on need;
however, in NSLP they can only do so up to the maximum rate. States may also supplement federal
reimbursements with state funding.
Special Options
Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)
The HHFKA authorized the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), an option that al ows
eligible schools, groups of schools, and school districts to offer free meals to al enrolled
students.77 To participate in CEP, the school(s) must have an identified student percentage (ISP)
of at least 40%. The ISP is the percentage of students in the school(s) who are certified for free
meals without a household application (i.e., who are directly certified for free meals through
SNAP or another program/category).78 In addition, the school(s) must operate both NSLP and
SBP in order to participate in CEP, and they must opt-in to CEP.
Based on the statutory parameters, FNS piloted CEP in various states over three school years, and
expanded the option nationwide in school year 2014-2015. Eligible schools, groups of schools,
and entire school districts may participate; if participation is as a group, the ISP is calculated on a
group basis. Local educational agencies have until June 30 of each year to notify USDA of the
schools in their jurisdiction that wil participate in CEP.79 According to a database maintained by

77 For more detail on CEP, see CRS Report R46371, Serving Free School Meals through the Community Eligibility
Provision (CEP): Background and Participation
.
78 A school’s ISP is essentially the same as its direct certification rate, except that the ISP does not include students
who are directly certified for reduced-price meals through the Medicaid demonstration. For the definition of “ identified
students” in regulations, see 7 C.F.R. §245.9(f)(1)(ii).
79 USDA FNS, “National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program: Eliminating Applications through
Community Eligibility as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” 81 Federal Register 50194, July
29, 2016.
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the Food Research and Action Center, nearly 30,700 schools participated in CEP in school year
2019-2020, up from 18,220 schools in school year 2015-2016.80
Though CEP schools serve free meals to al students, they are not reimbursed at the free rate for
every meal served. Instead, the law provides a funding formula: the ISP is multiplied by a factor
of 1.6 to estimate the proportion of students who would be eligible for free or reduced-price
meals had they been certified via application.81 The result is the percentage of meals served that
wil be reimbursed at the free-meal rate, with the remainder reimbursed at the much lower paid-
meal rate. For example, if a CEP school has an ISP of 40%, then 64% of its meals served would
be reimbursed at the free-meal rate and 36% would be reimbursed at the paid-meal rate. Schools
that identify 62.5% or more students as eligible for free meals receive the free-meal
reimbursement for al meals served (62.5% multiplied by 1.6 equals 100%). Figure 4 provides a
visual representation of the CEP eligibility criteria and reimbursement formula.
CEP participating schools must recalculate their ISP at least once every four years, but they can
choose to do so more frequently if desired.82 While eligibility determinations occur every four
years, schools can drop out of CEP at any time.83
CEP is intended to reduce paperwork for families and schools and enable schools to provide more
free meals. However, the option may or may not be financial y beneficial for schools depending
on their proportion of identified students.

80 Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger-Free Schools: School Year
2019–2020
, May 2020, https://frac.org/research/resource-library/community-eligibility-the-key-to-hunger-free-schools-
school-year-2019-2020.
81 Statute allows USDA to set the reimbursement multiplier between 1.3 and 1.6; USDA has set the multiplier at 1.6.
USDA FNS, “ National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program: Eliminating Applications T hrough
Community Eligibility as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” 81 Federal Register 50194, July
29, 2016, p. 50201.
82 7 C.F.R. §245.9(f).
83 7 C.F.R. §245.9(j).
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Figure 4. Community Eligibility Provision (CEP): Eligibility and Reimbursement

Source: Graphic created by CRS based on current law formula.
Notes: The Identified Student Percentage (ISP) is the percentage of enrol ed children who are certified for free
meals without a household application.
Provisions 1, 2, and 3
Schools, groups of schools, and school districts can also use Provisions 1, 2, and 3 to establish
alternative certification and reimbursement procedures. These options are intended to reduc e
paperwork for school administrators and families.84 The options predate CEP, and unlike CEP,
they stil require some household applications. A school’s decision to participate in a special
option may depend on financial considerations.
Provision 1 al ows schools with high proportions (80% or more) of students eligible for free and
reduced-price meals to make free meal eligibility determinations that remain in effect for two
school years. This reduces the number of applications they have to process (though they stil have
to process reduced-price meal applications annual y).85
Provision 2 and Provision 3 are open to al schools. Similar to CEP, schools, groups of schools,
or school districts must agree to provide free meals (lunches or lunches/breakfasts) to al students
in order to participate in Provision 2 or Provision 3. Under Provision 2, schools are reimbursed
over a four-year period using the proportion of meals served at a free/reduced-price/paid rate
during the first year. Eligibility determinations in the first year are based on direct certification
and household applications (a difference from CEP). Under Provision 3, schools are similarly
required to make eligibility determinations in the first year of a four-year period. However, in this

84 USDA FNS, “ Provisions 1, 2, and 3,” May 6, 2014, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/provisions-1-2-and-3.
85 Section 11(a)(1) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1759a(a)(1)); 7 C.F.R. §245.9; USDA FNS, “ Provisions 1, 2,
and 3,” May 6, 2014, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/provisions-1-2-and-3.
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case, schools receive the same level of federal assistance over the next three years, which is
adjusted for enrollment and inflation (there are no separate payments for free/reduced-price/paid
meals).86
Nutrition Standards and Food Service
Nutrition Standards for School Meals
Nutritional requirements for school meals have changed throughout the history of the school
meals programs.87 The most recent child nutrition reauthorization, the HHFKA in 2010, required
USDA to update the nutrition standards for school meals within 18 months of the law’s enactment
based on recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academies of
Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.88 The law also provided a “performance-based” bonus
reimbursement of 6 cents per lunch (adjusted annual y for inflation) for schools certified as
compliant with the updated standards (the rate was 7 cents in school year 2020-2021).
USDA published the updated nutrition standards for school meals in 2012.89 They were based on
the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (per an existing statutory requirement) as wel as the
recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.90 The
standards required increased servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and meats/meat
alternates in lunches and breakfasts. They also restricted milk to unflavored low -fat (1%) and
flavored and unflavored fat-free varieties, set limits on calories and sodium in school meals, and
prohibited trans fats in school meals, among other changes. Separate from the final rule, USDA
also implemented a requirement in the HHFKA that schools make water available to children
during meal service in the cafeteria.91
The revised nutrition standards largely took effect in school year 2012-2013 for lunches and in
school year 2013-2014 for breakfasts. A few requirements phased in over multiple school years.92
Some schools experienced difficulty implementing the new standards, and subsequent changes to
the whole grain, sodium, and milk requirements were made through appropriations acts and
USDA rulemaking.93

86 Ibid.
87 T he current nutrition standards for school meals are located at 7 C.F.R. §210.10.
88 Section 201 of P.L. 111-296. Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,
School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children , Washington, DC, 2010.
89 USDA FNS, “Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs,” 77 Federal
Register
17, January 26, 2012, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2012/01/26/2012-1010/nutrition-standards-
in-the-national-school-lunch-and-school-breakfast-programs. For related resources, see USDA FNS website at
http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/nutrition-standards-school-meals.
90 T he 1994 child nutrition reauthorization (P.L. 103-448) required schools to serve meals consistent with the Dietary
Guidelines for Americans. T he Dietary Guidelines for Americans are food-based recommendations developed jointly
by USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and updated every five years. For more information,
see CRS Report R44360, Dietary Guidelines for Am ericans: Frequently Asked Questions.
91 USDA FNS, “ Revised Child Nutrition Reauthorization 2010: Water Availability During National School Lunch
Program Meal Service,” SP-28-2011, July 12, 2011. Also see USDA FNS, “ Clarification on the Milk and Water
Requirements in the School Meal Programs,” SP 39-2019, September 23, 2019.
92 For the original implementation schedule based on the January 2012 final rule, see USDA FNS Implementation
T imeline, http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/implementation_timeline.pdf.
93 Recent changes to milk, whole grain, and sodium requirements are discussed in USDA FNS, “Child Nutrition
Programs: Rescission of Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Flexibilities: Notice of Vacatur” 85 Federal Register 74847,
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States and school districts are al owed to implement additional nutritional requirements for school
meals, as long as they meet the federal standards.
Table 6 provides an overview of the federal nutrition standards for school lunches as of March
2021. This table does not reflect any waivers of the meal patterns that states may have granted to
SFAs in school year 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.94
Table 6. Summary of the Nutrition Standards for School Lunches
Adapted from 7 C.F.R. Section 210.10 as of March 2021
Grades K-5
Grades 6-8
Grades 9-12

Required offerings per week (minimum per day)a
Fruits (cups)
2.5 (0.5)
2.5 (0.5)
5 (1)
Vegetables (cups) (subgroup requirements not shown)b
3.75 (0.75)
3.75 (0.75)
5 (1)
Grains (ounce equivalents)c
8-9 (1)
8-10 (1)
10-12 (2)
Meats/meat alternates (ounce equivalents)
8-10 (1)
9-10 (1)
10-12 (2)
Fluid milk (cups)d
5 (1)
5 (1)
5 (1)
Daily amount based on average weekly requirement
Minimum-maximum calories (kcal)e
550-650
600-700
750-850
Saturated fat (percentage of total calories)
<10%
<10%
<10%
Sodium Target 2 (mg)f
≤935
≤1,035
≤1,080
Trans fat
Nutrition label or manufacturer specifications must
indicate zero grams of trans fat (less than 0.5
grams) per serving.
Source: Table adapted from 7 C.F.R. §210.10 as of March 2021.
Notes: During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA FNS has al owed states to waive meal pattern requirements on
a targeted basis. For more information, see USDA FNS, “COVID-19 Nationwide Waiver to Al ow Meal Pattern
Flexibility in the Child Nutrition Programs,” https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/covid-19-meal-pattern-flexibility-waiver.
a. School food authorities must al ow high school students and can optional y al ow students at the middle and
elementary school levels to decline up to two components at lunch, except that the students must select at
least a 0.5 cup of the fruit or vegetable component.
b. Requirements related to vegetable subgroups (dark green, red/orange, legumes, starchy, other) are not
shown. Up to half of the fruit or vegetable offerings may be in the form of 100% juice.
c. Al grains offered weekly must be whole grain-rich (defined as containing at least 50% whole-grains, and the
remaining grain, if any, must be enriched).

November 24, 2020. Changes to milk, whole grain, and sodium requirements prior to 2019 are discussed in CRS
Report R45486, Child Nutrition Program s: Issues in the 115th Congress.
94 USDA FNS, “COVID-19 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Pattern Flexibility in the Child Nutrition Programs,”
https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/covid-19-meal-pattern-flexibility-waiver.
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d. Al fluid milk must be low-fat (1% fat or less, unflavored) or fat-free (unflavored or flavored). With milk and
with other foods, schools must make substitutions for students who are considered to have a disability and
whose disability restricts their diet, and may make substitutions for medical or special dietary needs.
e. Discretionary sources of calories (solid fats and added sugars) may be added to the meal pattern if within
the specifications for calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.
f.
Schools are currently required to meet sodium target 2 (displayed in table). Final sodium targets (target 3)
are effective in SY2022-2023.
Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods
The HHFKA also required USDA to develop nutrition standards for other foods sold in NSLP-
and SBP-participating schools on campus during the school day. These foods are known as
competitive foods (i.e., foods sold in competition with school meals). Competitive foods include
foods and drinks sold in vending machines, a la carte lines, snack bars and concession stands, and
school fundraisers. These foods do not receive a federal reimbursement. The HHFKA required
USDA to publish proposed nutrition standards for competitive foods within one year of the law ’s
enactment and align the standards with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Relying on recommendations made by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and
Medicine, FNS promulgated a proposed rule in April 2013 and then an interim final rule in June
2013, which went into effect in school year 2014-2015.95 The interim final rule created nutrition
standards for al non-meal foods and beverages that are sold during the school day (defined as
midnight until 30 minutes after dismissal). The final rule, published in July 2016, maintained the
interim final rules with minor changes.96 Under the final standards, competitive foods must have
certain primary ingredients, meet whole-grain requirements, and comply with calorie, sugar,
sodium, and fat limits, among other criteria. Schools are also limited to a list of zero- and low-
calorie beverages they may sel (with larger portion sizes and caffeine al owed in high schools).
Fundraisers held outside of the school day and fundraisers in which the food sold is clearly not
intended for consumption on campus during the school day are not subject to the competitive
food nutrition standards. In addition, the law and the final rule provided states with discretion to
exempt infrequent fundraisers sel ing foods or beverages that do not meet the nutrition standards.
The rule did not limit foods brought from home—only foods sold at school during the school day.
The federal standards are minimum standards, and states and school districts are permitted to
issue more stringent policies. Many districts already had local competitive food standards in place
prior to the HHFKA because of the 2004 child nutrition reauthorization law (P.L. 108-265), which
required local educational agencies to implement local school wel ness policies that included
nutritional guidelines for foods sold in schools (local school wel ness policies are discussed in the
“Other Child Nutrition Activities” section).

95 Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Nutrition Standards for Foods in
Schools: Leading the Way toward Healthier Youth
, 2007, https://www.nap.edu/catalog/11899/nutrition-standards-for-
foods-in-schools-leading-the-way-toward; USDA FNS, “ Interim Rule: NSLP and SBP Nutrition Standards for All
Foods Sold in Schools as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” 78 Federal Register 79567,
December 31, 2013, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2013/12/31/2013-31350/national-school-lunch-
program-and-school-breakfast -program-nutrition-standards-for-all-foods-sold-in.
96 USDA FNS, “National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program: Nutrition Standards for All Foods
Sold in School as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010; Final Rule,” 81 Federal Register 50131,
July 29, 2016, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/07/29/2016-17227/national-school-lunch-program-
and-school-breakfast -program-nutrition-standards-for-all-foods-sold-in. Related resources are available at the USDA
FNS website, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/tools-schools-focusing-smart-snacks.
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Local School Wellness Policies
Local educational agencies participating in the school meals programs are required to have a local
school wel ness policy, which sets nutrition and health-related goals and guidelines for schools
within the jurisdiction.97 Local school wel ness policies must include goals related to nutrition
and physical activity, nutrition standards for school foods that meet or exceed federal nutrition
standards (discussed previously), and an implementation plan, among other content. Local
educational agencies must provide opportunities for input from parents, students, school nutrition
professionals, physical education teachers, school health professionals, school administrators, and
the general public in developing and updating local school wel ness policies.
Other Food Service Topics
This section discusses food procurement and service topics specific to the school meals programs.
Other food service topics relevant to child nutrition programs more broadly, including NSLP and
SBP (e.g., the farm to school initiative), are discussed in the “Other Child Nutrition Activities”
section.
Food Procurement and Preparation
The majority of foods used in the school meal programs are purchased by school food authorities
using federal cash reimbursements or other school district funds. School food authorities also
receive USDA Foods (as discussed previously). School food authorities must comply with federal
procurement rules when purchasing foods for the school meals programs.98 In addition, there is a
“Buy American” requirement in statute that requires schools participating in the school meal
programs to purchase domestic commodities and products “to the maximum extent practicable.”99
Purchases may include local foods, as long as they comply with federal, state, and local
procurement regulations.100
Many school food authorities purchase and prepare their own meals, either at a centralized district
kitchen or onsite at individual schools.101 Alternatively, school food authorities may contract with
a private food service management company to contract out procurement and/or meal
preparation. The contracted company must comply with al school meal regulations and the

97 T he 2004 child nutrition reauthorization created the requirement that local educational agencies establish school
wellness policies, and the HHFKA expanded requirements around local school wellness policies. Section 9A of the
Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. §1758b); 7 C.F.R. §210.31.
98 7 C.F.R. §210.21.
99 Section 12(n) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1760(n)). USDA has issued guidance on the implementation of this
provision; see USDA FNS, “Compliance with and Enforcement of the Buy American Provision in the National School
Lunch Program,” SP 38-2017, June 2017, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/compliance-enforcement -buy-
american. For further discussion, see CRS Report R45486, Child Nutrition Program s: Issues in the 115th Congress.
100 For more information, see CRS Report R43950, Local Food Systems: Selected Farm Bill and Other Federal
Program s
.
101 In school year 2011-2012, “55 percent of school food authorities have only onsite kitchens at the individual schools,
while 17 percent have only centralized (offsite) kitchens, and the remaining 29 percent have a mixture. Similarly, 21
percent of school food authorities used Food Service Management Companies (FSMCs) to manage the food service
operations in at least some of their schools.” USDA FNS Office of Policy Support, Special Nutrition Program
Operations Study: State and School Food Autho rity Policies and Practices for School Meals Program s School Year
2011-12
, March 2014, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/SNOPSYear1.pdf.
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school food authority must retain general control over the operation of the school meals
programs, including financial oversight and compliance with nutrition standards.102
School Meal Equipment Grants
At different points in the school meals programs’ history, specific funds have been provided for cafeteria
equipment purchases (per-meal reimbursements may also cover equipment costs). Since FY2013, annual
appropriations acts have provided funding for school meal equipment assistance grants to help schools prepare
meals that comply with updated nutrition standards, improve food safety, and support the establishment,
maintenance, or expansion of school breakfast programs.103 These grants are awarded by FNS to state agencies,
which distribute funds to school food authorities on a competitive basis and prioritize schools in which at least half
of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Food Safety
Foods served in any child nutrition program must comply with state or local health, safety, and
sanitation standards for food storage, preparation, and service. Schools participating in the school
meals programs must obtain food safety inspections by a state or local government agency at least
twice a year.104 There are also food safety inspections for USDA Foods.105 School food authorities
may al ow children to place leftover whole food or beverage items on a “share table” in schools
operating NSLP and other child nutrition programs, as long as such sharing complies with food
safety standards.106
Meal Time and Setting
In general, lunches and breakfasts are intended to be consumed onsite during the school day.107
Surveys have found that schools typical y provide roughly 20 minutes for breakfast and 25-30
minutes for lunch.108
Under SBP, students were traditional y required to arrive early for breakfast and eat it in the
cafeteria. However, in recent years, schools and states have increasingly adopted alternative
models of breakfast service such as breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go carts, and breakfast
during morning breaks. Anti-hunger advocacy groups have encouraged the adoption of new
models of breakfast service as a way to increase SBP participation.109 According to a 2018 survey

102 USDA FNS, “Contracting with Food Service Management Companies: Guidance for School Food Authorities,”
SP40, CACFP12, SFSP14-2016, May 2016, https://www.fns.usda.gov/updated-guidance-contracting-food-service-
management .
103 T he American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5) provided $100 million for school meals equipment
assistance grants, which was spent in FY2009-FY2011. Appropriations acts in FY2010 and from FY2013 to FY2021
have provided subsequent funding for these grants.
104 Section 9(h) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1758(h)).
105 Section 29 of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1769j).
106 USDA FNS, “ T he Use of Share T ables in Child Nutrition Programs,” SP 41-2016, CACFP 13-2016, SFSP 15-2016,
June 22, 2016, https://www.fns.usda.gov/use-share-tables-child-nutrition-programs.
107 USDA FNS, “Clarification of the Policy on Food Consumption Outside of Foodservice Area, and the Whole Grain -
Rich Requirement,” April 2014, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/cn/SP41-2014os.pdf.
108 USDA FNS Office of Policy Support, Special Nutrition Program Operations Study: State and School Food
Authority Policies and Practices for School Meals Program s School Year 2011 -12
, March 2014, https://fns-
prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/SNOPSYear1.pdf; and School Nutrition Association, School Nutrition Operations
Report: The State of School Nutrition 2018
, August 2018.
109 For example, see Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), “School Breakfast Expansion Str ategies,”
http://www.frac.org/programs/school-breakfast -program/school-breakfast -expansion-strategies; and Share Our
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by the School Nutrition Association (SNA), a member and advocacy organization, more than half
of surveyed school districts offered both a traditional cafeteria line and alternative modes of
breakfast service, while 43% of schools offered a cafeteria line only. Common alternatives were
grab-and-go stations (particularly in middle and high schools) and breakfast in the classroom
(particularly in elementary schools).110
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
CACFP provides federal reimbursements for meals and snacks served in more than 140,000 child
care centers, day care homes, and adult day care centers nationwide in FY2020 (see Table 7 for
participation by type of institution).111 In these settings, reimbursements are limited to meals and
snacks served to children ages 12 and under, children of any age with disabilities, and chronical y
disabled and elderly adults.112 CACFP also supports free meals and snacks for children ages 18
and under in emergency shelters and afterschool programs in low-income areas (discussed in the
“After-School Meals and Snacks” section).113
In general, CACFP provides cash reimbursements for up to two meals and one snack or one meal
and two snacks per participant daily (a meal may be a breakfast, lunch, or supper).114 A smal er
share of federal aid takes the form of commodity assistance or cash in lieu of commodities and
funds for administrative costs (discussed previously).115 The eligibility and funding rules of
CACFP differ for centers (facilities or institutions) and day care homes (private homes). Day care
homes must be overseen by sponsoring organizations, which handle the financial and
administrative functions of the program for a number of local providers. Centers have the option
of operating independently or under a sponsor.
Both centers and day care homes must comply with government-established standards for other
child care programs and meet federal CACFP nutrition standards.116

Strength, “2017-2018 State-level Policy and Legislative T rends,” http://bestpractices.nokidhungry.org/policy-and-
advocacy/school-breakfast .
110 School Nutrition Association, School Nutrition Operations Report: The State of School Nutrition 2018 , August
2018.
111 USDA FNS, “March Keydata Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/
march-keydata-report-november-2020-data.
112 Reimbursements are also available for meals/snacks served to migrant children ages 15 or under and children with
disabilities of any age. “ Elderly” is defined as individuals age 60 or older. 7 C.F.R. §226.2.
113 For more information on CACFP for emergency shelters, see https://www.fns.usda.gov/participation-emergency-
shelters-child-and-adult-care-food-program-cacfp—questions-and-answers.
114 Section 17(f)(2)(B) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1766(f)(2)(B)). Emergency shelters can receive reimbursement for up
to three meals per day per child.
115 In CACFP, states may request any amount of cash-in-lieu of commodities per Section 17(h)(1)(D) of the NSLA
(codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(h)(1)(D)).
116 Section 17(a)(5) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(a)(5)); 7 C.F.R. §226.6(d). All CACFP-participating
child care centers and homes must be licensed child care providers. If federal, state, or local licensing is not available,
the institution must comply with federal, state, or local child care standards. Emergency shelters are not subject to this
requirement but they must meet state or local health and safety standards.
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Table 7. CACFP Participation: Centers and Day Care Homes, FY2020
Total
Average Number of
Number of
Number of
Participants Per
Outlets
Participants
Institution

Day care homes
81,700
584,400
7
Child care centers
57,400
3,544,600
62
Adult day care centers
2,400
107,800
46
Source: USDA FNS, “March Keydata Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/march-keydata-report-november-2020-data.
Notes: FY2020 was an atypical year of operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and general y reflects lower
participation compared to recent years. Participation estimated by USDA FNS based on average daily meals
served; average number of participants per institutions estimated by CRS. Total number of outlets and
participants are rounded to the nearest hundreds.
Administration
At the local level, sponsor organizations administer CACFP for al participating day care homes
and centers that elect to have a sponsor.117 Sponsors are responsible for conducting audits of
providers, distributing federal reimbursements, and in some instances, preparing and distributing
meals.118 They can be public or nonprofit institutions or, in some cases, for-profit institutions.119
Centers that choose to handle their own administrative responsibilities are referred to as
independent centers.
Unlike centers, day care homes are required to have a sponsor organization. Sponsors receive
monthly federal administrative payments based on the number of homes for which they are
responsible (sponsors, on average, have more than 100 day care homes under their
supervision).120 They may also receive a portion of the per-meal reimbursement if they have an
agreement with the day care home to prepare meals.121 If a center opts to have a sponsor, the
sponsor may retain a portion of the per-meal reimbursements for its administrative expenses.122

117 As an example of the role that sponsors and homes play in CACFP, in Allentown, PA, the Lehigh Valley Children’s
Centers (LVCC) serves as a sponsor for child care homes in the area. T hey offer a variety of administrative services to
family child care homes that are registered with the state. In their brochure, they state that it is LVCC’s responsibility to
“monitor meals and reimburse [homes] for meals served,” and it is homes’ responsibility “to plan nutritional menus
that meet meal requirements, maintain and submit daily attendance records and monthly meal counts.” See
http://www.lvcconline.org/images/pdf/CACFP-Brochure.pdf.
118 Per statute, sponsors must make at least one scheduled visit to sponsored day care homes and centers each year and
periodic unannounced site visits at not less than three-year intervals (Section 17(d)(2) of the NSLA [codified at 42
U.S.C. §1766(d)(2)]). Per regulations, sponsors must make at least three site visits each year, two of which must be
unannounced, with limited exceptions (7 C.F.R. §226.16(d)(4)(iii)). CACFP has a “ serious deficiency” process that
outlines the procedures involved in terminating an institution or provider from CACFP, which involves corrective
action plans and hearings (Section 17(d)(5) of the NSLA [codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(d)(5)]).
119 For-profit institutions may be sponsors of for-profit centers if they are part of the same legal entity. Section
17(a)(2)(D) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(a)(2)(D)).
120 T he number of day care homes divided by the number of sponsors of day care homes. USDA FNS, “March Keydata
Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/march-keydata-report-november-2020-
data.
121 See program regulations at 7 C.F.R. §226.13.
122 Sponsors of centers may retain up to 15% of the per-meal reimbursements for administrative expenses. T hey may
also request a state waiver to exceed this limit. See program regulations at 7 C.F.R. §226.7(g).
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In CACFP, the state administering agency is typical y the state department of education or
department of health and/or human services.123 The state agency distributes federal funds and
conducts reviews of CACFP sponsor organizations and independent centers.124
Similar to the school meals programs, FNS provides oversight of state agencies and issues
guidance and regulations to states and providers.
Eligibility and Reimbursement
CACFP Centers
The following institutions are eligible to participate as centers in CACFP:
 public or private nonprofit (tax exempt) organizations providing nonresidential
child care or adult day care (including school food authorities and Head Start
centers),125
 private for-profit organizations providing nonresidential child care or adult day
care that enroll a certain proportion of low-income participants,126 and
 emergency shelters for homeless families.127
Adult day care centers and outside school hour centers fal under the first two categories, but they
are subject to specific federal regulations.128
Income eligibility rules for CACFP centers are the same as the school meals programs:
participants in households at or below 130% of the poverty line qualify for free meals and snacks
and those between 130% and 185% of the poverty line qualify for reduced-price meals and
snacks (a charge of no more than 40 cents for a lunch or supper, 30 cents for a breakfast, and 15
cents for a snack).129 CACFP centers also use similar categorical eligibility criteria, including
participation in Head Start, foster child status, and household participation in SNAP, FDPIR, or
TANF assistance. Adults are categorical y eligible if they participate in SNAP, FDPIR,
Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Medicaid.130 Eligibility is determined through paper
applications or, in some states, direct certification-like processes.

123 For a list of CACFP state administering agencies, see USDA FNS, “CACFP: Contacts,” https://www.fns.usda.gov/
contacts.
124 State agencies must annually review at least one-third of sponsors/independent centers. Further rules are specified at
7 C.F.R. §226.6(m).
125 Section 17(a)(2) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(a)(2)). Private nonprofit institutions must have tax -
exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 per program regulations (7 C.F.R. §226.15).
126 Section 17(a)(2) and Section 17(d)(1)(B) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(a)(2), (d)(1)(B)). Private for -
profit institutions qualify if at least 25% of enrolled children meet the income eligibility criteria for free or reduced-
price school meals, if the institution receives compensation under the Social Services Block Grant for at least 25% of
its enrolled children, or if at least 25% of enrolled adults are Medicaid or Social Services Block Grant beneficiaries.
127 Section 17(a)(2) and Section 17(t) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(a)(2), (t)). Emergency shelters are
facilities that provide temporary housing as defined in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C.
§11351).
128 7 C.F.R. §226.19; 7 C.F.R. §226.19a.
129 Section 17(c)(4) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(c)(4)); 7 C.F.R. §226.2.
130 See definition of “free meal” at 7 C.F.R. §226.2. Statute provides categorical eligibility for adults who are members
of a household receiving assistance under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. §2011 et seq.) and recipients of
SSI or Medicaid. Section 17(o)(5) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(o)(5)). Also see a summary of CACFP
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For CACFP centers, the reimbursement rates for breakfasts and lunches/suppers are the same as
the SBP breakfast reimbursement rate and NSLP lunch reimbursement rate, respectively. The
largest subsidies are provided for free and reduced-price meals and snacks, while paid meals
receive a lower reimbursement.131 Unlike the school meals programs, CACFP al ows centers
certain flexibilities for tracking meal counts and submitting claims for reimbursement.132
Compared to school meals, CACFP centers are also less likely to collect meal payments from
participants and more likely to incorporate meal costs into tuition. Centers are not required to
adjust tuition and fees to account for CACFP funding. Centers are also al owed to charge families
separately for meals and snacks, as long as there are no charges for children who qualify for free
meals and limited charges for those who qualify for reduced-price meals.133
CACFP Day Care Homes
Day care homes are private homes that provide nonresidential child care services. In general, any
day care home that meets local, state, or federal child care standards may participate in CACFP.
Unlike centers, day care homes general y do not make eligibility determinations and receive the
same reimbursement rate for every meal served. Day care homes located in a low -income area or
with a low-income provider receive a higher, Tier I reimbursement rate (shown in Table 8). To
receive the Tier I rate, the home must be located in an area in which at least 50% of children are
eligible for free or reduced-price meals or be operated by a provider whose household income
level meets the free or reduced-price income standards.134 Day care homes that do not qualify for
Tier I rates receive Tier II (lower) rates. However, Tier II providers may seek the higher Tier I
subsidies for individual low-income children for whom household income information is
collected and verified.
Like centers, day care homes may incorporate meal costs into tuition. Unlike centers, federal
rules prohibit any separate meal charges.135

eligibility rules at the USDA FNS website, http://www.fns.usda.gov/cacfp/why-cacfp-important .
131 Section 17(c) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(c)). For inflation -adjusted CACFP reimbursement rates for
school year 2019-2020, see 84 Federal Register 38594, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/07/2019-
16907/child-and-adult-care-food-program-national-average-payment-rates-day-care-home-food-service-payment.
132 7 C.F.R. §226.9. Also see USDA FNS, Independent Child Care Centers Handbook: A CACFP Handbook, May
2014, pp. 46-51, https://www.fns.usda.gov/cacfp/cacfp-handbooks.
133 7 C.F.R. §226.6(f)(1)(i). Also see USDA FNS, Independent Child Care Centers Handbook: A CACFP Handbook,
May 2014, pp. 18-19, https://www.fns.usda.gov/cacfp/cacfp-handbooks.
134 Section 17(f)(3)(A)(ii)(I) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1766(f)(3)(A)(ii)(I)). Sponsoring organizations may
use school data (provided by the state agency) to demonstrate that at least 50% of children in the day care home’s area
are eligible for free/reduced-price meals, or use Census data (provided by FNS) to demonstrate that at least 50% of
children in the area are members of households that meet the in come standards for free or reduced-price meals. See
USDA FNS, Area Eligibility in Child Nutrition Program s, CACFP04-2017, December 1, 2016,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/area-eligibility-child-nutrition-programs.
135 7 C.F.R. §226.18(d).
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Table 8. Reimbursement Rates: CACFP Centers and Day Care Homes
Per-Meal/Snack Reimbursement for the 48 Contiguous States, the District of Columbia, and U.S.
Territories, School Year 2020-2021

Breakfast
Lunch/Supper
Snack
Centers
Free
$1.79
$3.31
$0.91
Reduced-price
$1.49
$2.91
$0.45
Paid
$0.31
$0.31
$0.08
Day Care Homes
Tier I
$1.33
$2.49
$0.74
Tier II
$0.48
$1.50
$0.20
Source: USDA FNS, “CACFP: National Average Payment Rates, Day Care Home Food Service Payment Rates,
and Administrative Reimbursement Rates for Sponsoring Organizations of Day Care Homes for the Period July
1, 2020 Through June 30, 2021,” 85 Federal Register 44268, July 22, 2020. Rates shown in the table apply to the
U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam; separate rates are provided for Alaska and Hawai . For historical
program reimbursement rates, see http://www.fns.usda.gov/cacfp/reimbursement-rates.
Notes: CACFP centers receive the base reimbursement provided for breakfasts and lunches as SBP and NSLP.
Table does not show monthly administrative payments to sponsoring organizations of day care homes.
Nutrition Standards and Food Service
Nutrition Standards
In addition to nutrition standards for school foods, the HHFKA required the Secretary of
Agriculture to update CACFP’s meal patterns. USDA’s final rule, effective October 1, 2017,
revised the meal patterns for meals and snacks served in centers and day care homes.136 It also
aligned nutrition standards for meals served to preschool-aged children through NSLP and SBP.
For infants (under 12 months of age), the new meal patterns eliminated juice, encouraged
breastfeeding, and set guidelines for the introduction of solid foods, among other changes. For
children ages one and older and adult participants, the new meal patterns increased whole grains,
fruits, and vegetables, limited milk to unflavored 1% and unflavored or flavored fat-free varieties,
limited sugar in cereals and yogurts, and prohibited deep-fried foods. They also required that
potable water be available to children throughout the day.
Procurement and Meal Service
CACFP institutions may purchase their own foods and prepare their own meals, or they may
contract with a school or a food service management company that prepares meals for them. In
either case, institutions must comply with federal, state, and local procurement regulations.137 As
noted previously, CACFP institutions also receive a certain amount of USDA Foods.

136 USDA FNS, “Child and Adult Care Food Program: Meal Pattern Revisions Related to the Healthy, Hunger -Free
Kids Act of 2010: Final Rule,” 81 Federal Register 24348 et seq., April 25, 2016, https://www.federalregister.gov/
documents/2016/04/25/2016-09412/child-and-adult-care-food-program-meal-pattern-revisions-related-to-the-healthy-
hunger-free-kids-act.
137 7 C.F.R. §226.22; USDA FNS, Independent Child Care Centers Handbook: A CACFP Handbook, May 2014, pp.
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Meals must comply with state or local health, safety, and sanitation requirements for storing,
preparing, and serving food, and institutions must acquire annual food safety inspections. Family-
style meal service is encouraged in CACFP.138
Summer Meals
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option provide federal
reimbursements for summer meals. SFSP is open to school food authorities, local public agencies,
and private nonprofit organizations, while the Seamless Summer Option is specifical y for school
food authorities, al owing them to continue operating under certain NSLP/SBP requirements into
the summer. Both programs require children to consume meals onsite (known as the “congregate
feeding” requirement).139 In recent years, the federal government has tested alternatives to
congregate feeding through the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT)
demonstration in select states.
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides federal aid to school food authorities and
other local public and nonprofit organizations that serve meals and snacks to children during the
summer months.140 Federal aid is provided in the form of per-meal cash reimbursements and a
smal er amount of commodity foods and administrative funds (discussed previously). The
program serves roughly 2.5 mil ion children at nearly 50,000 meal sites in a typical summer.141
Similar to CACFP, SFSP is administered at the local level by sponsor organizations that operate
the program at one or more meal sites (the physical location where food is served and eaten). Al
SFSP meal sites are required to have a sponsor. Sponsors may operate meal sites at a variety of
locations, including schools, recreation centers, parks, churches, and public libraries.
Unlike the other child nutrition programs, SFSP participation is general y limited (with the
exception of camps) to meal sites that serve children from “areas in which poor economic
conditions exist”—defined as areas or sites in which at least 50% of children are eligible for free
and reduced-price school meals (discussed further below).142

38-39, https://www.fns.usda.gov/cacfp/cacfp-handbooks.
138 Ibid, p. 37.
139 7 C.F.R. §225.6(e)(15).
140 Sponsors may operate SFSP from May through September for children on school vacation. Sponsors may also
receive SFSP reimbursements for meals during unanticipated school closures, and sponsors administering SFSP under
a continuous school calendar system may operate SFSP at any time (7 C.F.R. §225.6(e)).
141 Participation data prior to the COVID-19 pandemic from USDA FNS, “ November Keydata Report (September 2019
data),” December 13, 2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/november-keydata-report-september-2019-data. According
to a May 2018 GAO report, estimates of participation in SFSP may be unreliable because they have been calculated
inconsistently across states and years. See U.S. Government Accountability Office, Actions Needed to Im prove
Participation Estim ates and Address Program Challenges,
GAO-18-369, May 2018, https://www.gao.gov/products/
GAO-18-369.
142 Section 13(a) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. §1761(a)).
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Administration
The following public and private nonprofit institutions are eligible to participate in SFSP as
sponsors:
 nonprofit organizations,
 school food authorities,
 state and local governments (including tribal governments),
 public or nonprofit summer camps (overnight and day camps), and
 public or nonprofit colleges and universities participating in the National Youth
Sports Program.143
Eligible sponsors must also provide year-round services to the community, with limited
exceptions.144 According to statute, when selecting sponsors, states must give priority to school
food authorities, public and nonprofit organizations that have demonstrated successful program
performance in a prior year, new public sponsors, and new nonprofit sponsors (in that order).
States must also prioritize sponsors located in rural areas.145
Sponsors are responsible for selecting meal sites, distributing meals to sites, and monitoring
sites.146 Officials at meal sites are responsible for distributing meals to children, monitoring the
food service, and keeping track of meals served for reimbursement. At times, a sponsor may also
be a site (for example, camps are both sponsors and meal sites).
An FNS analysis of a national y representative sample of SFSP sponsors and meal sites in
summer 2015 found that the majority of sponsors were school food authorities and nonprofit
organizations, and common meal sites included schools, recreation centers, and
parks/playgrounds.147
State administering agencies (often state departments of education) approve sponsors, distribute
federal funds, and conduct reviews of sponsors and sites.148 State agencies receive SFSP funds for
administrative costs in addition to general child nutrition program administrative funds (discussed
previously in the “Administrative Funds” section).
FNS distributes funds and commodities to state agencies, oversees states’ implementation of
SFSP, and provides guidance and technical assistance to states and participating institutions.

143 Section 13(a)(7) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1761(a)(7)). “Nonprofit” means tax exempt under Section
501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (7 C.F.R. §225.2). While SFSP sponsors are limited to nonprofit or public
institutions, state agencies may approve open meal sites located at a for -profit institution.
144 Residential camps are not subject to this requirement. Section 13(a)(3)(D) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C.
§1761(a)(3)(D)).
145 Section 13(a)(4) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1761(a)(4)).
146 Sponsors managed an average of seven sites according to USDA FNS, “ T he Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
Characteristics Study,” June 18, 2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program-characteristics-
study. Sponsors must conduct at least one site visit during the first week of program operation; review food service
operations at least once during the first four weeks of program operation; and then maintain “a reasonable level of site
monitoring” (7 C.F.R. §225.15(d)).
147 USDA FNS, “ T he Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Characteristics Study,” June 18, 2019,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program-characteristics-study.
148 State agencies must review sponsors at least once every three years, with more frequent reviews of certain sponsors.
Further details are available at 7 C.F.R. §225.7(d)(2)(ii).
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Eligibility and Reimbursement
According to statute, al sponsors except camps must “conduct a regularly scheduled food service
for children from areas in which poor economic conditions exist.”149 SFSP regulations establish
different eligibility rules for different types of meal sites.
Open sites are meal sites that are open to al children in the community.150 In order to participate
in SFSP, open sites must be located in an area in which at least 50% of the children would be
eligible for free or reduced-price school meals as demonstrated through school data, Census data,
or other approved data sources.151 Meals must be served free to al children at these sites, and the
sponsor of the site receives reimbursement for every meal served (up to two meals or one meal
and one snack per child daily).
Closed enrolled sites are meal sites (other than camps) that only serve enrolled children. In order
for the site to participate in SFSP, at least 50% of the enrolled children must qualify for free or
reduced-price school meals based on the submission of a household application or other
documentation.152 Like open sites, meals are served free to al children and the sponsor receives
reimbursement for every meal served (up to two meals or one meal and one snack per child
daily).
Camps include residential and day camps that provide organized programs for enrolled children.
Unlike open and closed enrolled sites, camps do not have to demonstrate that a certain percentage
of children meet the free and reduced-price eligibility standards in order to participate in SFSP.
Instead, eligibility works like NSLP and SBP: camps make eligibility determinations using
similar income and categorical eligibility criteria for free and reduced-price meals. However,
unlike the school meals programs, camps receive the same reimbursement rate for free and
reduced-price meals. Camps may receive reimbursement for up to three meals or two meals and
one snack per eligible child daily. Camps are not required to serve meals for free to al children,
and there is no paid reimbursement provided for full-price meals.
National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) sites, run by the National Collegiate Athletic
Association, are enrolled sites; however, like open sites, they qualify for SFSP based on area
eligibility data showing that at least half of the children in the area would qualify for free or
reduced-price school meals. Sponsors of NYSP sites serve meals free to al enrolled children and
receive reimbursement for al meals served (up to two meals or one meal and one snack per child
daily).
Migrant sites must demonstrate that they predominantly serve migrant children as certified by a
migrant organization or a sponsor. They follow the same eligibility and reimbursement rules as
open sites, except that they may receive reimbursement for up to three meals or two meals and
one snack per child daily.

149 Section 13(a)(3)(C) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1761(a)(3)(C)).
150 Open sites may become “restricted open sites” if they need to restrict attendance for reasons related to security,
safety, or control (7 C.F.R. §225.2). According to USDA guidance, sponsors of restricted open sites must publicly
announce the restriction. USDA FNS, Adm inistration Guide: Sum m er Food Service Program , September 2016, p. 12,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/handbooks.
151 Section 13(a)(1)(A) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1761(a)(1)(A)). For more in formation on area eligibility, see USDA
FNS, “Area Eligibility in Child Nutrition Programs,” SP 08-2017, CACFP 04-2017, SFSP 03-2017, December 1, 2016,
https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/cn/SP08_CACFP04_SFSP03-2017os.pdf.
152 7 C.F.R. §225.15(f).
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According to the FNS study of SFSP sites, in summer 2015 the majority (59%) of sites were open
sites, 29% were closed enrolled sites, 9% were camps, and 4% were another type of site.153
The SFSP reimbursement rate (the total rate displayed in Table 9) is composed of two parts: an
operating cost (food, storage, labor) reimbursement and an administrative cost (planning,
organizing, and managing) reimbursement.154 While operating and administrative rates are
calculated separately, once sponsors receive the funds they can use them for any al owable
program cost. Higher administrative reimbursements are provided for sponsors of rural meal sites
and “self-preparation” sites (meal sites in which a sponsor rather than vendor prepares food).
Table 9. Reimbursement Rates: SFSP
Per-Meal/Snack Reimbursement Rates for the 48 Contiguous States and the District of Columbia,
Calendar Year 2021

Breakfast
Lunch/Supper
Snack
Rural or
All Other
Rural or
All Other
Rural or
All Other

Self-Prep
Sites
Self-Prep
Sites
Self-Prep
Sites
Operating
$2.24
$2.24
$3.91
$3.91
$0.91
$0.91
component
Administrative
$0.22
$0.18
$0.41
$0.34
$0.11
$0.09
component
Total rate
$2.46
$2.42
$4.32
$4.25
$1.02
$1.00
Source: For program reimbursement rates as wel as Alaska’s and Hawai ’s rates, see USDA FNS, “Summer
Food Service Program: 2021 Reimbursement Rates,” 85 Federal Register 86901, December 31, 2020.
Note: Per authorizing law, the administrative component is calculated to the nearest quarter-cent. This table
rounds to the nearest cent, and rates may not sum to the total. “Rural” means “(a) any area in a county which is
not a part of a Metropolitan Statistical Area or (b) any ‘pocket’ within a Metropolitan Statistical Area” that is
geographical y isolated from urban areas (7 C.F.R. 225.2). “Self-Prep” means that meals are prepared by the
sponsor or site (and not by a vendor).
Nutrition Standards
Meals and snacks served through SFSP must meet federal nutrition standards. In contrast to the
child nutrition programs discussed thus far, SFSP’s nutrition standards are not required to align
with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but are “prescribed by the Secretary on the basis of
tested nutritional research.”155 Program regulations outline the nutrition standards for breakfasts,
lunches/suppers, and snacks.156 The standards prescribe minimum servings of fruits and
vegetables, meats/meat alternatives, breads/bread alternatives, and milk. Unlike school meals and
CACFP, there are no limits on calories, saturated and trans fats, and milk varieties in SFSP.

153 USDA FNS, “ T he Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Characteristics Study,” June 18, 2019,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program-characteristics-study.
154 T he authority for operating cost reimbursements is provided in Section 13(b)(1) of the NSLA ( 42 U.S.C.
§1761(b)(1)), and the authority for the administrative cost reimbursement is provided in Section 13(b)(3) of the NSLA
(42 U.S.C. §1761(b)(3)).
155 Section 13(f) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1761(f)).
156 7 C.F.R. §225.16(d).
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Participating school food authorities may choose instead to use the NSLP and/or SBP nutrition
standards for SFSP.157
Procurement and Meal Service
As noted, children are required to consume meals onsite in SFSP. There are also requirements
around the timing of meals in SFSP: there must be at least three hours between meal or snack
services and four hours between lunch and dinner if there is no snack served.158 Like the other
child nutrition programs, SFSP sponsors must comply with local or state health and sanitation
requirements.
Seamless Summer Option
School food authorities may participate in SFSP, or they can choose to offer summer meals
through the Seamless Summer Option. The Seamless Summer Option al ows school food
authorities to continue operating under certain NSLP/SBP requirements into the summer. For
example, it al ows them to use the school meals programs’ nutrition standards, administrative
review process, and reimbursement rates (see Table 5 for NSLP/SBP reimbursement rates). Other
requirements are the same as SFSP, including site eligibility rules.159 School food authorities are
the only eligible sponsor in the Seamless Summer Option, but they can operate the program at a
variety of meal sites (e.g., parks, recreation centers, libraries).
The school lunch and breakfast reimbursement rates used in the Seamless Summer Option are
slightly lower than SFSP’s reimbursement rates. However, school food authorities participating in
the Seamless Summer Option also receive the NSLP commodity reimbursement (discussed in the
“Commodity Assistance” section). School food authorities may also have a reduced
administrative burden under the Seamless Summer Option.
Summer EBT and Other Demonstration Projects
Beginning in summer 2011 and each summer since (as of the date of this report), USDA has
operated Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) demonstration projects
in a limited number of states and Indian Tribal Organizations. The project provides electronic
food benefits to households with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
Depending on the site and year, either $30 or $60 per month is provided on an EBT card. States
and jurisdictions may apply to administer the project through SNAP or WIC. Participants in
jurisdictions providing benefits through SNAP can redeem benefits for SNAP-eligible foods at
any SNAP-authorized retailer, while participants in the WIC EBT jurisdictions are limited to a
smal er set of eligible foods at WIC-authorized retailers.
Summer meal demonstration projects were first authorized and funded by the FY2010
appropriations law (P.L. 111-80).160 Since FY2015, they have been funded in annual

157 7 C.F.R. §225.16(f).
158 In addition, suppers cannot be served after 7 p.m. without a waiver from the state agency. 7 C.F.R. §225.16(c).
159 Section 13(a)(8) of the NSLA (codified at 42 U.S.C. §1761(a)(8)). For a comparison of SFSP and SSO, see USDA
FNS, “Comparison of Programs: SFSP/NSLP/Seamless Option,” January 22, 2015, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/
default/files/SFSP_SeamlessComparisonChart.pdf.
160 Section 749(g) of P.L. 111-80. T he FY2010 appropriation was $85 million, which funded demonstration activities in
summers 2011 to 2014. Additional appropriations for summer demonstration projects have been provided in each of
FY2015 through FY2019. For more information, see CRS Report R45486, Child Nutrition Program s: Issues in the
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appropriations acts (as of the cover date of this report). Although a number of approaches were
tested, findings from Summer EBT were among the most promising, showing significant impacts
on reducing food insecurity and improving nutrient intake.161
Summer EBT grantees in prior years include Connecticut, the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations,
Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.162
In October 2018, FNS announced a new strategy for determining grant recipients in FY2019 that
prioritized states that had not participated before, statewide projects, and projects that could
operate in the summers of 2019 through 2021.163 Four jurisdictions were awarded funds: the
Chickasaw Nation and Michigan (prior grantees) were funded for summers 2019-2021, and
Wisconsin and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (new grantees) were funded for summers
2020-2022.164 In October 2020, FNS announced the addition of four jurisdictions—Cherokee
Nation, Connecticut, Missouri, and Oregon (al prior grantees)—that were awarded funding to
operate projects in summers 2021-2023.165
Other summer demonstrations projects have included food backpacks, food boxes, and meal
delivery for children in rural areas.166 In addition, since summer 2015 there has been a
demonstration project to provide exemptions from the congregate feeding requirement to SFSP
and Seamless Summer Option outdoor meal sites experiencing excessive heat.167
Special Milk Program (SMP)
The Special Milk Program (SMP) provided funding for milk served in approximately 3,500
schools, child care institutions, summer camps, and other institutions in FY2020.168 General y,

115th Congress.
161 Collins et al., Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (SEBTC) Demonstration: Evaluation Findings for
the Full Im plem entation Year,
prepared by Abt Associates, Mathematica Policy Research, and Maximus (Alexandria,
VA: USDA FNS, 2013), p. 105. Improvements in food insecurity varied significantly between Summer EBT sites. For
evaluations of other approaches tested through the Enhanced Summer Food Service Program (eSFSP), see USDA FNS,
“Enhanced Summer Food Service Program,” November 8, 2013, https://www.fns.usda.gov/ops/enhanced-summer-
food-service-program-esfsp.
162 USDA FNS, “ USDA Announces Summer EBT Grants; Includes New States, Rural Communities,” June 28, 2017,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/pressrelease/2017/006617; and USDA FNS, Sum m er Electronic Benefit Transfer for
Children (SEBTC) Dem onstration: Sum m ary Report
, prepared by Abt Associates Inc., May 2016, p. 7,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-electronic-benefit -transfer-children-sebtc-demonstration-summary-report.
163 Grants.gov, Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (Summ er EBT) Grant Program: Fiscal Year 2019
Request for Applications
, USDA FNS, October 31, 2018, https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?
oppId=310059.
164 USDA Office of Budget and Program Analysis (OBPA), “2021 USDA Explanatory Notes – Food and Nutrition
Service,” p. 34-41, https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fns-fy2021-congressional-justifications.pdf.
165 USDA FNS, “USDA Awards Child Nutrition Summer EBT Grants,” October 30, 2020, https://www.fns.usda.gov/
news-item/fns-001620.
166 For further discussion, see CRS In Focus IF11633, Summer Meals for Children: An Overview of Federal Aid.
USDA FNS, “ Enhanced Summer Food Service Program (eSFSP),” https://www.fns.usda.gov/ops/enhanced-summer-
food-service-program-esfsp; and USDA FNS, “ USDA Highlights Success of Rural Summer Meals Delivery Project in
T exas,” August 13, 2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/pressrelease/fns-001119.
167 USDA FNS, “Demonstration Project for Non-Congregate Feeding for Outdoor Summer Meal Sites Experiencing
Excessive Heat with Q&As,” SP 28-2019, SFSP 13-2019, May 29, 2019, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/
demonstration-project-non-congregat e-feeding-outdoor-summer-meal-sites-experiencing.
168 USDA FNS, “March Keydata Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/
march-keydata-report-november-2020-data.
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schools and other participating institutions may not participate in another child nutrition meal
service program along with SMP. However, schools may administer SMP for pre-kindergartners
and kindergartners who are in part-day sessions and do not have access to the school meals
programs.169
In SMP, participating institutions provide milk to children for free and/or at a subsidized paid
price. Institutions are reimbursed differently based on whether they decide to provide milk for
free to al children, sel milk to al children, or combine these options (providing free milk to
eligible children and sel ing milk to other children) (see Table 10). If institutions choose the
combined option, they must establish eligibility rules for free milk.170
USDA updated the nutritional requirements for milk served in SMP alongside changes to the
CACFP nutrition standards.171 The final rule, which took effect on October 1, 2017, required
unflavored whole milk for one-year-olds, unflavored low-fat (1%) or unflavored fat-free milk for
children ages 2-5, and unflavored low-fat (1%) or flavored/unflavored fat-free milk for children
ages six and older. The regulations also al owed for reimbursement of non-dairy milk substitutes
in cases of medical or special dietary needs.
Table 10. Reimbursement Rates: SMP
Per Half-Pint Reimbursement, 50 States and the District of Columbia, School Year 2020-2021
Free Milk to Low-

All Milk Served
Paid Milk
Income Children
Schools that only sel
milk
$0.20
N/A
N/A
Schools that provide
only free milk
$0.20
N/A
N/A
Schools that sel milk
N/A
$0.20
Average cost per
and provide free milk
half-pint of milk
Source: USDA FNS, “National School Lunch, Special Milk, and School Breakfast Programs, National Average
Payments/Maximum Reimbursement Rates,” July 22, 2020, 85 Federal Register 44270.
Note: The average cost per half-pint of milk is determined based on receipts submitted by the institution.
After-School Meals and Snacks
CACFP and NSLP both provide federal support for snacks and meals served during after-school
programs.172 The CACFP At-Risk Afterschool component provides reimbursement for up to one
snack and one meal (usual y supper) per child daily, whereas the NSLP Afterschool Snack option
provides reimbursement for snacks only. Reimbursement rates for CACFP At-Risk Afterschool

169 Section 3 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. §1772).
170 Institutions can set eligibility at or below the income threshold for free school meals (130% of the poverty line) (7
C.F.R. §215.13a).
171 USDA FNS, Child and Adult Care Food Program: Meal Pattern Revisions Related to the Healthy, Hunger-Free
Kids Act of 2010
, final rule, 81 Federal Register 24347, April 25, 2016, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/
2016/04/25/2016-09412/child-and-adult-care-food-program-meal-pattern-revisions-related-to-the-healthy-hunger-free-
kids-act.
172 T he CACFP At-Risk Afterschool snack/meal program is authorized in Section 17(r) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C.
§1766(r)); the NSLP snack program is authorized in Section 17A of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1766a).
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meals/snacks and NSLP afterschool snacks are the same as CACFP reimbursement rates (listed in
Table 8).
CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals and Snacks
The CACFP At-Risk Afterschool component was authorized as a demonstration project in 1994
(P.L. 103-448), expanded over time, and made available to al states by the HHFKA.173 The
institutional eligibility rules are the same for At-Risk Afterschool providers as CACFP centers
(see the “CACFP Centers” section); additional y, CACFP At-Risk Afterschool providers must be
located in areas where at least 50% of children in the community are eligible for free or reduced-
price school meals.174 The afterschool program must have “an educational or enrichment
purpose.”175
Participating institutions receive reimbursement for up to one snack and one meal (e.g., supper)
per child daily, and meals and snacks are provided for free to al children. Meals and snacks must
meet federal nutrition standards.176 Institutions may operate the At-Risk Afterschool program in
the after-school hours and on weekends, holidays, and breaks during the school year.
Unlike the traditional CACFP, which is only available to children ages 12 and under, the At-Risk
Afterschool component al ows participation through age 18. In FY2020, the CACFP At-Risk
Afterschool component served a daily average of 2.6 mil ion children.177
NSLP Afterschool Snacks
The NSLP Afterschool Snack option was authorized in the 1998 child nutrition reauthorization
act (P.L. 105-336). It al ows NSLP-participating schools to receive federal reimbursement for one
snack per child daily in eligible afterschool programs during the school year.178 According to
USDA guidance, eligible afterschool programs must provide “organized, regularly scheduled
activities in a structured and supervised environment,” including an educational or enrichment
activity.179
Schools that choose to operate the NSLP Afterschool Snack component may do so in one of two
ways: (1) like the CACFP At-Risk Afterschool component, if at least 50% of children are eligible
for free and reduced-price meals, the schools may provide free snacks to al children, or (2) if this
criterion is not met, the schools may offer free, reduced-price, or full price snacks, based on
household income eligibility (like the school meals programs). The vast majority of snacks

173 Prior to HHFKA, 13 states were permitted to offer CACFP At-Risk After-School meals (instead of just a snack); the
law allowed all CACFP state agencies to offer such meals. S.Rept. 111-178, p. 7.
174 Emergency shelters do not need to meet this requirement.
175 Section 17(r) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1766(r)).
176 7 C.F.R. §226.20.
177 CRS communication with FNS on March 22, 2021.
178 Schools may also operate the NSLP Afterschool Snack component in the hours after summer school sessions.
179 USDA FNS, “ NSLP Afterschool Snack Service – FAQs,” November 2013, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/
afterschool-snacks-faqs.
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provided through this program represent the first option.180 Snacks served through the NSLP
Afterschool Snack component must comply with federal nutrition standards.181
In FY2020, the NSLP Afterschool Snack component served a daily average of 870,500 mil ion
children.182
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) provides formula grants to states to fund fresh
fruit and vegetable snacks in selected elementary schools.183 Under a statutory formula, about half
the funding is distributed equal y to each state and the remainder is al ocated by state population.
States must prioritize funding for schools with high proportions of students who are eligible for
free or reduced-price meals. Schools must participate in NSLP in order to receive a FFVP grant.
States set annual per-student grant amounts (between $50 and $75). Schools may provide fresh
fruit and vegetable snacks to students at any time of day outside of the breakfast or lunch
service.184 Schools offer snacks to al children in attendance (regardless of family income).
As noted previously, FFVP’s funding structure differs from the other child nutrition programs.
FFVP is funded by a mandatory transfer of funds from Section 32 of the Act of August 24, 1935.
The authorizing law provided $150 mil ion for school year 2011-2012, which is adjusted annual y
for inflation.185 In FY2021, FNS al ocated approximately $203 mil ion in FFVP funds to states.186
FFVP has been amended over time both by farm bil s and by child nutrition reauthorization bil s.
FFVP was created by the 2002 farm bil (P.L. 107-171) as a pilot project. The 2004 child nutrition
reauthorization act (P.L. 108-265) made the program permanent and provided funding for a
limited number of states and Indian reservations. The 2008 farm bil (P.L. 110-246) expanded
FFVP’s mandatory funding through Section 32 and enabled al states to participate in the
program. The 2014 farm bil (P.L. 113-79) essential y made no changes to FFVP but provided $5
mil ion for a demonstration project to test offering frozen, canned, and dried fruits and vegetables
in the program. Four states (Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, and Maine) participated in the pilot in
school year 2014-2015 and an evaluation was published in 2017.187

180 J. Guthrie, Feeding Children After School: The Expanding Role of USDA Child Nutrition Programs, USDA
Economic Research Service, Amber Waves, March 1, 2012, https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2012/march/
feeding-children-after-school.
181 7 C.F.R. §210.10(o).
182 USDA FNS, “March Keydata Report (November 2020 data),” March 12, 2021, https://www.fns.usda.gov/data/
march-keydata-report-november-2020-data.
183 Section 19 of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1769a). FFVP currently operates according to statute and USDA guidance.
USDA-FNS issued a proposed rule in 2012 to codify statutory requirements in regulations, but a final rule has not been
published.
184 USDA FNS, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program: A Handbook for Schools, December 2010, https://fns-
prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/handbook.pdf.
185 Section 19(i) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1769a(i)).
186 USDA FNS, “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP): Allocation of Funds for FY2021,” August 18, 2020,
https://www.fns.usda.gov/ffvp/allocation-funds-fy-2021.
187 Briefel et al., Evaluation of the Pilot Project for Canned, Frozen, or Dried Fruits and Vegetables in the Fresh Fruit
and Vegetable Program (FFVP -CFD), prepared by Mathematica Policy Research (Alexandria, VA: USDA FNS,
January 2017), https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/FFVP-CFD.pdf. For more information on proposals
to include frozen, canned, and dried fruits and vegetables in FFVP, see CRS Report R45486, Child Nutrition
Program s: Issues in the 115th Congress
.
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Other Child Nutrition Activities
Federal child nutrition laws authorize, and child nutrition funding supports, several additional
initiatives and activities, such as studies and evaluations, training and technical assistance,
technology improvements, and food safety initiatives.188 Selected initiatives and activities are
discussed below.
Farm to School Program
The farm to school program, which includes grants to organizations, technical assistance, and
research, was authorized by the HHFKA in 2010.189 It expanded upon FNS’s existing farm to
school efforts, defined broadly as “efforts that bring regional y and local y produced foods into
school cafeterias,” with a focus on enhancing child nutrition.190 The goals of these efforts include
increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among students, supporting local farmers and rural
communities, and providing nutrition and agriculture education. The farm to school program has
mandatory funding of $5 mil ion, which has been supplemented with discretionary funds in recent
years.191
One component of the farm to school program is farm to school grants, which are awarded by
FNS on a competitive basis to schools, nonprofit entities, and agricultural producers and
processors for the purpose of establishing programs that improve schools’ access to local y
produced foods. They may be used for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing
equipment, developing school gardens, nutrition education, developing partnerships, and other
activities.192 In FY2020, FNS awarded more than $12 mil ion for 159 grants, projected to serve
more than 7,610 schools and 2.5 mil ion students.193
Institute of Child Nutrition
The Institute of Child Nutrition provides technical assistance, instruction, and materials for
nutrition and food service professionals and other local administrators of child nutrition programs
on a variety of topics. The institute receives $5 mil ion a year in mandatory funding appropriated
in statute.194 The institute is currently located at the University of Mississippi.
Team Nutrition
The Team Nutrition initiative supports federal y and state-developed nutrition education and
promotion initiatives. This includes grants for state agencies to develop programs to improve

188 T his section does not list all related child nutrition activities. For further details on these and other functions funded
by the “child nutrition programs” account, see discussion starting on p. 32-28 of the FY2020 USDA FNS
Congressional Budget Justification, https://www.obpa.usda.gov/32fns2020notes.pdf.
189 Section 243 of P.L. 111-296, adding Section 18(g) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1769(g)).
190 USDA FNS, The Farm to School Program —2012-2015: Four Years in Review, p. 3.
191 Mandatory funding for the farm to school program is provided under Section 18(g)(8)(A) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C.
§1769(g)(8)(A)).
192 For more information, see USDA FNS’s Office of Community Food Systems website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/
farmtoschool/farm-school; and CRS Report R46538, Local and Urban Food System s: Selected Farm Bill and Other
Federal Program s
.
193 Ibid.
194 Section 21(e)(1)(A) of the NSLA (42 U.S.C. §1769b-1(e)(1)(A)).
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school meal quality, such as by training school nutrition professionals. From 2004 to 2018, Team
Nutrition also included the HealthierUS Schools Chal enge, which was a voluntary certification
initiative designed to recognize schools that create a healthy school environment through the
promotion of nutrition and physical activity.195
Further Information
CRS reports:
 CRS In Focus IF10266, Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR): An Overview
 CRS Report R45486, Child Nutrition Programs: Issues in the 115th Congress
 CRS Report R42353, Domestic Food Assistance: Summary of Programs
 CRS Report R41354, Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization: P.L. 111-296
(summarizes the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010)
 CRS Report R44373, Tracking Child Nutrition Reauthorization in the 114th
Congress: An Overview
 CRS In Focus IF11633, Summer Meals for Children: An Overview of Federal Aid
 CRS Report R46371, Serving Free School Meals through the Community
Eligibility Provision (CEP): Background and Participation
 CRS Report R46681, USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Response to the
COVID-19 Pandemic
 CRS Report R46488, USDA Domestic Food Assistance Programs: FY2020
Appropriations
 CRS Report RL34081, Farm and Food Support Under USDA’s Section 32
Program
 CRS Report RL33299, Child Nutrition and WIC Legislation in the 108th and
109th Congresses (summarizes the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act
of 2004)
Other resources:
 USDA FNS website, https://www.fns.usda.gov/
 USDA FNS Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act page, http://www.fns.usda.gov/
school-meals/healthy-hunger-free-kids-act
 The FNS page of the Federal Register, https://www.federalregister.gov/agencies/
food-and-nutrition-service
 USDA FNS Congressional Budget Justifications, https://www.obpa.usda.gov/
explan_notes.html


195 See the USDA FNS website, http://www.fns.usda.gov/hussc/healthierus-school-challenge-smarter-lunchrooms.
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Appendix. A Brief History of Federal Child
Nutrition Programs

Other Historical Resources
The Emergence of School
The National Food Service Management Institute (now
Lunches and the National
the Institute of Child Nutrition), with funding from
USDA, produced a 15-minute video documenting the
School Lunch Program
history of the child nutrition programs through 2007.
“A Journey Through the History of Child Nutrition
When the first federal aid for school lunches
Programs” is available on the Institute of Child
was provided in the 1930s, local school lunch
Nutrition’s YouTube page (https://youtu.be/
9E29Qg5G0g4).
programs were already operational in many
cities and localities across the United States.196
Many of these early lunch programs were started by charitable women’s organizations at the turn
of the century in an effort to feed hungry children. Over time, they transitioned to school boards
and school districts. These programs received a combination of private, local, and state
funding.197
The federal government became involved in school lunch programs during the Great Depression
both as a way to feed hungry children and support the farm economy. Initial y, federal aid was
provided in the form of cafeteria equipment and labor. In 1932, the Reconstruction Finance
Corporation began providing loans to states and school districts to cover the cost of cafeteria
space and equipment for school lunch programs.198 In 1935, the Works Progress Administration, a
New Deal agency, began sponsoring women’s employment in school lunchrooms. Federal food
support for school lunches began that same year, when Section 32 of the Act of August 24, 1935
(P.L. 74-320) was enacted. The act provided 30% of customs receipts to USDA to purchase
surplus commodities from farmers impacted by the depression. These commodities were donated
through various outlets for domestic consumption, including school lunch programs.
With commodity aid came the first federal regulations for school lunch programs. USDA required
recipient organizations, through their agreements with state agencies, to operate school lunch
programs on a nonprofit basis, maintain any existing local funding for school lunches, keep
records of foods received, serve meals free to poor children, and ensure that such children would
not be identified to their peers, among other requirements.199
The availability of federal aid contributed to a rapid increase in the number of school lunch
programs. However, in 1943, federal commodity aid declined as Section 32 surplus commodities
were diverted to feed U.S. armed forces in World War II. In addition, federal support for

196 T he first cities to institute school lunch programs included Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Los Angeles,
Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. G.W. Gunderson, The National School Lunch Program :
Background and Developm ent
, USDA FNS, 1971, https://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/history (hereinafter, Gunderson
1971); A.R. Ruis, Eating to Learn, Learning to Eat: The Origins of School Lunch in the United States (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2017), pp. 22 -27; Susan Levine, School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History
of Am erica’s Favorite Welfare Program
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 22 (hereinafter, Levine
2008).
197 Ibid.
198 Levine 2008, p. 44.
199 Gunderson 1971; T he Bureau of Agricultural Economics, USDA, “T he School Lunch Program and Agricultural
Surplus Disposal,” Miscellaneous Publications No. 467, October 1941.
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lunchroom labor disappeared with the elimination of the Works Progress Administration.200 In the
midst of declining aid, Congress provided the first cash assistance—$50 mil ion in Section 32
funds—for “a school milk and lunch program” in the 1944 Department of Agriculture
Appropriation Act (P.L. 78-129). The introduction of cash assistance marked a shift in the lunch
program.201 For the first time, schools could purchase their own foods in addition to receiving
federal y purchased commodities.
Annual appropriations acts continued cash support for school lunches until 1946, when the
National School Lunch Act (P.L. 79-396) was enacted. Signed into law on June 4, 1946, by
President Truman, the National School Lunch Act permanently authorized appropriations of
“such sums as may be necessary” for the National School Lunch Program. (The act would later
be renamed the “Richard B. Russel National School Lunch Act,” recognizing Senator Russel ’s
role in the passage of the legislation and his earlier support for the school lunch program within
New Deal programs and during his tenure as the Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations
subcommittee.202) The law required participating schools to serve lunches for free or at a reduced
price to students who were deemed by local school authorities as unable to pay the full cost of a
lunch. Funds were to be distributed to states based on the number of school-aged children in the
state and the state’s need, as measured by per-capita income, and states were to match federal
funds dollar-for-dollar. States were to distribute funding on a monthly basis to schools based on
the number of meals served that met “minimum nutritional requirements prescribed by the
Secretary on the basis of tested, nutritional research” (P.L. 79-396).203 Cash assistance could not
be used for cafeteria equipment, and separate funds were authorized for this purpose ($10 mil ion
annual y); however, Congress subsequently prohibited appropriations for equipment assistance
from FY1948 to FY1967.204
NSLP remained relatively unchanged from 1946 to 1960. However, during this timeframe,
concerns emerged over the funding formula. One concern was that the formula prioritized
funding for schools with large numbers of school-aged children rather than actual participants in
the program. There was also concern that schools with high proportions of needy children
received the same amount of aid as those with wealthier families, even though they had to serve a
larger number of meals for free or at a reduced-price.205 In 1962, P.L. 87-823 changed the funding
formula to be based on the number of school lunches served in the state in the preceding school
year instead of the number of school-aged children. The law also authorized additional “special
assistance” for state-selected schools in poor economic areas (however, special assistance was not
funded until 1966).206

200 Gunderson 1971.
201 However, commodity assistance continued t o make up a large share of federal support for school lunches, and
exceeded cash assistance until 1970. J.Y. Jones, “Appendix A: Child Nutrition Programs: A Narrative Legislative
History and Program Analysis” in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Education and Labor, Child Nutrition
Program s: Issues for the 103d Congress,
103rd Cong., 2nd sess., Serial No. 103-H (Washington, DC: GPO, 1994)
(hereinafter, Jones 1994).
202 J.T . Gay, “Richard B. Russell and the National School Lunch Program,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 80(4),
1996, pp. 860-863.
203 Jones 1994, p. 41. USDA provided the highest reimbursement (up to 9 cents) for a “complete” T ype A meal that
was designed to provide one-third to one-half of a child’s daily nutritional intake; up to 6 cents was provided for an
“incomplete” T ype B meal; and up to 2 cents for a T ype C meal, which was simply a half-pint of milk. T o see the
original nutritional requirements for each type of meal, see Gunderson 1971.
204 Jones 1994, pp. 59-61.
205 Jones 1994, pp. 41, 63-64; Levine 2008, p. 128.
206 CRS DL741517, “Brief History of Child Nutrition Legislation,” by Kathryn Michelman and Joe Richardson , 1974.
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Other notable changes to NSLP occurred in the 1970s. In 1970, P.L. 91-248 extended special
assistance to al schools participating in NSLP.207 The law also reduced the state matching
requirement and established the first national eligibility guidelines for free and reduced-price
meals at 100% of the federal poverty level (later in the decade increased to 125% for free lunches
and 195% for reduced-price lunches). In 1971, another significant change occurred with the
enactment of P.L. 92-153, which guaranteed states a certain level of federal cash assistance by
specifying average per-meal reimbursement rates for free, reduced-price, and paid lunches.208
The Addition of Other Child Nutrition Programs
In the 1960s, federal child nutrition efforts expanded beyond school lunches.209 On October 11,
1966, the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (P.L. 89-642) was enacted.210 It formal y authorized the
Special Milk Program (SMP) and authorized the School Breakfast Program (SBP) as a pilot
program. The SMP was based on predecessor USDA school milk programs that had operated
since the 1940s.211 SBP was a newer concept that USDA had piloted in the 1965-1966 school
year.212 In a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the Child Nutrition Act, then-Secretary of
Agriculture Orvil e L. Freeman testified that
These proposals will permit us to begin a comprehensive effort to broaden child nutrition
programs in this country. They are based on what we have learned in 20 years of
administration of the National School Lunch Act, and they reflect a careful assessment of
gaps which now exist in the nutritional needs of children in this country.213
The SMP provided reimbursements for milk in schools, nonprofit child care centers, summer
camps, and other nonprofit institutions. At the time, schools and institutions could participate in
both SMP and NSLP. Meanwhile, SBP was authorized for two fiscal years and required states to
prioritize funds for “schools drawing attendance from areas in which poor economic conditions
exist and to those schools to which a substantial proportion of the children enrolled must travel
long distances daily” (P.L. 89-642).214 (Congress later expanded priority to include “schools in

According to Gunderson 1971, “ T he selection of the schools for receiving the special reimbursement from Section 11
funds was to be based upon five factors: T he economic condition of the area from which the schools draw attendance;
T he need for free or reduced-price lunches; T he percent of free or reduced-price lunches being served in such schools;
T he price of the lunch in such schools as compared with the average price of lunches served in the State; [and] T he
need for additional assistance as evidenced by the financial position of the lunch program in such schools.”
207 CRS Memorandum 831481, Chronology of Major Federal Food Assistance Legislation (Food Stamps, Child
Nutrition Programs and Elderly Nutrition) 1932 -1983, by Jean Yavis Jones, November 1983 .
208 CRS Memorandum 83.1481 (1983); Jones 1994, p. 43.
209 Levine 2008, p. 127; Jones 1994, p. 64.
210 Section 2 provided the purpose of the act: “ In recognition of the demonstrated relationship between food and good
nutrition and the capacity of children to develop and learn, based on the years of cumulative successful experience
under the National School Lunch Program with its significant contributions in the field of applied nutrition research, it
is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress that these efforts shall be extended, expanded, and strengthened under
the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture as a measure to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s
children, and to encourage the domestic consumption of agricultural and other foods, by assisting States, through
grants-in-aid and other means, to meet more effectively the nutritional needs of our children.”
211 Gunderson 1971.
212 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Agriculture, Hearing on H.R. 13361 and Bills to Amend and Make Permanent
the Special Milk Program for Children
, committee print, 89th Cong., 2nd Sess., June 23 and June 24, 1966, H. Prt. 66-
126 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1966), p. 16.
213 Ibid, p. 12.
214 USDA FNS, “School Breakfast Program: Program History,” July 2013, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sbp/program-
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which there is a special need for improving the nutrition and dietary practices of children of
working mothers and children from low-income families” (P.L. 92-32).) The Child Nutrition Act
of 1966 also gave the Secretary the authority to provide higher reimbursements to schools with
“severe need.” Like NSLP, the law specified that breakfasts “meet minimum nutritional
requirements prescribed by the Secretary on the basis of tested nutritional research,” and be
served for free or at a reduced price to children unable to pay the full price of a meal, as
determined by local school authorities (P.L. 89-642).
In 1968, child nutrition efforts were further expanded with the authorization of the Special Food
Service Program for Children (SFSPC), a pilot program to fund meals in summer and child care
settings (P.L. 90-302). SFSPC provided the first federal assistance for summer meals for children
and the first dedicated assistance for meals served in child care settings.215 Similar to SBP, SFSPC
was targeted to areas with poor economic conditions and a high number of working mothers.
In 1975, the program was split into the separate Child Care Food Program (CCFP) and the
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) (P.L. 94-105). CCFP was open to public and nonprofit
institutions that met child care licensing or other official child care standards, while SFSP
retained a focus on institutions in low-income areas.216 Meals were provided for free to al
children at SFSP sites, whereas CCFP conducted free and reduced-price eligibility determinations
like NSLP.
1980 to 2010
The long-standing growth of child nutrition programs was contrasted with budget cuts in the early
1980s, which were part of larger efforts to reduce federal domestic spending.217 The Omnibus
Reconciliation Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-499) reduced FY1981 funding for child nutrition programs
by approximately $400 mil ion (9%) of the child nutrition budget.218 The law achieved savings by
lowering reimbursement rates in the programs and eliminating commodity assistance for
breakfast, among other changes.219 Larger spending cuts followed with the Omnibus
Reconciliation Act of 1981, which made changes that col ectively cut $1.4 bil ion (25%) of the
child nutrition budget (Title VIII of P.L. 97-35).220 Many of the policy changes made by the law
remain in place today. For example, the law restricted eligibility from 195% of poverty to 185%
of poverty for reduced-price meals and set eligibility at 130% for free meals in the NSLP, SBP,
and CCFP. It also raised al owable charges for reduced-price lunches from 20 cents to 40 cents
and for reduced-price breakfasts from 10 cents to 30 cents.221 In a major change to SMP, the law
excluded schools/institutions that participated in another child nutrition meals program from
participating in SMP—cutting SMP’s budget by 77%.222 In CCFP, the law restricted participation

history.
215 Early appropriations for school lunches in 1944 and 1945 had allowed states to spend a small percentage of funds on
food served in child care centers. T he National School Lunch Act of 1946 made permanent support for meals served in
residential child care institut ions only.
216 Low-income areas were defined as areas in which at least one-third of children qualified for free or reduced-price
meals.
217 Jones 1994, p. 44.
218 CRS Memorandum 83.1481 (1983); Jones 1994, p. 44.
219 CRS Memorandum 83.1481 (1983); Jones 1994, p. 86.
220 Jones 1994, p. 44.
221 CRS Memorandum 83.1481 (1983).
222 Jones 1994, pp. 44-45.
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from children ages 18 and under to children ages 12 and under, and reduced the maximum
number of reimbursable meals from three meals and two snacks per child daily to two meals and
one snack per child daily. The law also eliminated equipment assistance for school meals.
Child nutrition programs were subsequently excluded from budget deficit reduction measures in
the late 1980s and 1990s, and new policies led to the expansion of the programs during this
timeframe.223 For example, amendments to the programs in these years authorized start-up grants
for school breakfast programs, expanded CCFP to adult day care centers (and renamed the Child
and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP), and provided new funding for afterschool snacks
through NSLP and CACFP.224 But what had potential y the longest-term impact on expansion was
a policy change intended to reduce paperwork in the school meals programs: automatic
(categorical) eligibility for free meals for children in food stamp (now SNAP) and Aid to Families
with Dependent Children (now TANF) households, which was enacted in 1986—and direct
certification of such children for free meals without household applications, which was enacted in
1989.225
Other policies in the late 1980s and 1990s focused on improving program integrity. The 1989
child nutrition reauthorization (P.L. 101-147) required USDA to create a standardized process
through which states would review school food authorities’ administration of NSLP and SBP
(known as administrative reviews).226 In CACFP, following USDA Office of the Inspector
General (OIG) audits in the 1990s that found instances of abuse and mismanagement, the
Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-224) made a number of changes aimed at
improving program integrity in CACFP.227 The act required CACFP sponsors to conduct more
frequent and unannounced site visits of sponsored centers and homes, restricted nonprofit
institutions’ eligibility to those with tax-exempt status, and excluded institutions deemed
ineligible to participate in any other public program based on violations of program requirements.
Other legislation was aimed at improving program integrity in the school meals programs.
Program integrity continued to be a focus in the 2004 child nutrition reauthorization (P.L. 108-
265), which made changes to school food authorities’ verification of household applications for
free and reduced-price meals. Specifical y, the law set a sample size of applications that schools
must review, established a focus on “error-prone” applications (applications near the income
eligibility thresholds), and authorized direct (automatic) household application verification
processes.228 In addition, the law required states to conduct additional administrative reviews of
school food authorities with a high level of administrative error or risk of error.229
The 2004 child nutrition reauthorization also continued the expansion of free school meals to new
categories of children. Specifical y, the law extended categorical eligibility and direct certification

223 Jones 1994, p. 45.
224 Jones 1994, pp. 46-47.
225 USDA FNS, Direct Certification in the National School Lunch Program: State Imp lementation Progress Report to
Congress
, Office of Research and Analysis, December 2008, p. 3, https://www.fns.usda.gov/direct-certification-
national-school-lunch-program-state-implementation-progress.
226 Jones 1994, p. 68.
227 See, for example, USDA Office of Inspector General, Food and Nutrition Service: Child and Adult Care Food
Program : National Report on Program Abuses,
Audit Report No. 27601-7-SF, August 1999, https://www.usda.gov/
oig/webdocs/27601-7-SF.pdf.
228 USDA FNS, Verification of Eligibility for Free and Reduced Price Meals in the National School Lunch and School
Breakfast Programs, 73 Federal Register 76847, December 18, 2008.
229 CRS Report RL33299, Child Nutrition and WIC Legislation in the 108th and 109th Congresses.
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for free school meals to homeless children, migrant children, and children served under the
Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.
The most recent child nutrition reauthorization as of the date of this report was the Healthy,
Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA; P.L. 111-296). The HHFKA continued the expansion of
school meals in a few ways. It made foster children categorical y eligible for free school meals,
and al owed direct certification of such children. It also included a pilot project for direct
certification (but not categorical eligibility) of children in Medicaid households for free and
reduced-price meals based on an income test. In addition, the HHFKA created the Community
Eligibility Provision (CEP), through which eligible schools can provide free meals to al students.
As discussed in this report, the HHFKA also made changes to nutritional requirements in the
school meals programs and CACFP. Specifical y, the law required USDA to update the nutrition
standards for school meals within a certain timeframe and align the standards with the Dietary
Guidelines for Americans (per an existing statutory requirement).230 The law also required USDA
to issue new nutrition standards regulating al foods sold on school campuses during the school
day (“competitive foods”). (Previous standards applied only to competitive foods sold during
meal service.) In addition, the HHFKA required USDA to update the nutrition standards for
CACFP meals and snacks within a certain timeframe and align them with the Dietary Guidelines
for Americans.231

Author Information

Kara Clifford Billings

Analyst in Social Policy


Acknowledgments
Prior CRS reports written by Randy Aussenberg, CRS Specialist in Nutrition Assistance Policy, and Joe
Richardson, former CRS Specialist, provided framework for this report. Brion Long, CRS Visual
Information Specialist, provided design assistance.

230 T he 1994 child nutrition reauthorization (P.L. 103-448) required schools to serve breakfasts and lunches that were
consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
231 For more information, see CRS Report R45486, Child Nutrition Programs: Issues in the 115th Congress. Also see
Janet Poppendieck, Free for All: Fixing School Food in America (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010).
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