National School Lunch Program

To assist States, through cash grants and food donations, in making the school lunch program available to school children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities.

Agency - Department of Agriculture

Established in 1862, the Department of Agriculture serves all Americans through anti-hunger efforts, stewardship of nearly 200 million acres of national forest and rangelands, and through product safety and conservation efforts. The USDA opens markets for American farmers and ranchers and provides food for needy people around the world.

Office - See Appendix IV of the Catalog.

Program Accomplishments

In fiscal year 2007, 5.07 billion lunches were served. School lunches must provide, over a school week, 1/3 of the Recommended Dietary Allowances for key nutrients and 1/3 of the calories needed by growing children. They also must conform to the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including limitations on calories from fat (no more that 30 percent of total calories) and saturated fat (less than 10 percent of total calories) averaged over the school week. To support nutrition education USDA has established Team Nutrition to provide nutrition information to children and their families and technical assistance for local school food service professionals.

Uses and Use Restrictions

Federally appropriated National School Lunch Program funds are available to each State agency to reimburse participating public and nonprofit private schools, of high school grades or under, including residential child care institutions, for lunches meeting the nutritional requirements prescribed by the Secretary of Agriculture, served to eligible children.

Schools meeting eligibility criteria may be reimbursed for snacks served to children enrolled in eligible after school hour care programs.

Participating schools are reimbursed at rates that are adjusted on an annual basis to reflect changes in the Food Away From Home series of the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

For the period July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008, the rates of reimbursement are 23.00 cents general cash assistance for paid lunches, 207.00 cents reduced price lunches and 247.00 cents for each free lunch.

The maximum reduced price charge for lunch is 40 cents.

Schools that served 60 percent or more free or reduced price lunches in the second preceding school year received an additional 2 cents general cash assistance for all lunches served.

The reimbursement for snacks in after school care programs is 68.00 cents for each free snacks, 34.00 cents for each reduced price snack and 6.00 cents for each paid snack.

In addition to cash reimbursement, the national average value of donated commodities for each lunch is 18.75 cents, for the period July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008, and is adjusted annually to reflect changes in the Price Index for Food Used in Schools and Institutions.

All participating schools must agree to serve free and reduced price meals to eligible children.

Federal program funds for the National School Lunch Program are provided to each State agency in a Child Nutrition block grant along with program funds for the School Breakfast Program, the Special Milk Program for Children, the Summer Food Service Program for Children, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Congress has given some leeway to States to determine how this block of money will actually be allocated among these programs at the State level based on program needs.

Eligibility Requirements

Applicant Eligibility

State and U.S.

Territory agencies (except territories subject to the Compact of Free Association), public and nonprofit private schools of high school grade and under; public and nonprofit private residential child care institutions, except Job Corps Centers, residential summer camps that participate in the Summer Food Service Program for children and private foster homes.

Schools and residential child care institutions desiring to participate must agree to operate a nonprofit food service that is available to all children regardless of race, sex, color, National origin, age, or disability.

Beneficiary Eligibility

All children enrolled in schools where the lunch program is operating may participate. Lunch is served free to children who are determined by local educational agencies to have household income levels at or below 130, and at a reduced price to children from households with incomes higher than 130 but at or below 185 percent of the poverty line respectively. Such determinations are made in accordance with income eligibility guidelines prescribed by the Secretary and cross reference household income with household size. The Secretary announces these income eligibility guidelines by July 1. The statistical source used in making such revisions is the Federal Income Poverty Guidelines. Children from households certified to receive food stamps, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, in most cases, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and some children in Head Start Programs are automatically eligible for free meals. Homeless children, children in certain runaway and homeless youth grant programs, and migrant children are also automatically eligible for free meals.


Applicant organizations must furnish evidence of nonprofit status. Costs will be determined in accordance with USDA Uniform Federal Assistance Regulations (7 CFR Part 3015 or 3016 and 3019).

Aplication and Award Process

Preapplication Coordination

The application forms as furnished by FNS or the State agency, as applicable, must be used for this program.

This program is eligible for coverage under E.O.

12372, "Intergovernmental Review of Federal Programs." An applicant should consult the office or official designated as the single point of contact in his or her State for more information on the process the State requires to be followed in applying for assistance.

Application Procedures

Public schools in all States make application to the State educational agency unless the State applies and is approved for a waiver to designate an alternate agency. Appropriate forms may be obtained from this agency. Nonprofit private schools should also apply to the State educational agency in most States. In some States, however, the State educational agency is prohibited by statute from disbursing Federal funds to nonprofit private schools. In such instances, the application should be submitted to the alternate State agency or the appropriate Food and Nutrition Service regional office.

Award Procedures

The State agency, or Food and Nutrition Service Regional Office (FNSRO) where applicable, reviews the written application of a school or a residential child care institution and, upon determination of eligibility, makes a written agreement with the school or institution for participation in the program.


Please contact the program contact listed in the Information Contacts section below.


National School Lunch Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 1751 1760, 1779.

Range of Approval/Disapproval Time

Range of Approval/Disapproval Time Agreements become effective upon approval by the State agency or FNSRO, where applicable.


None. The State agency or FNSRO, where applicable, is responsible for determining a school's eligibility.


Permanent, amended as necessary.

Assistance Considerations

Formula and Matching Requirements

The funding formula for the general cash for food assistance phase of the program is set forth in Section 4 of the National School Lunch Act, as amended; the formula for special cash assistance is described in Section 11 of the Act. The program is funded on a performance basis. For every lunch served during the applicable fiscal year, the State receives a payment from funds made available under Section 4. In addition, the State receives a payment from Section 11 funds for each lunch served to a child eligible for free or reduced price lunches. The amounts of such per-lunch payments are determined by "National Average Payment" (NAP) factors. The amount due the State under this program is obtained by: (1) multiplying the total number of eligible paid lunches and free and reduced price lunches served during the fiscal year by the Section 4 NAP factor for lunches; (2) multiplying the number of free lunches served by the Section 11 NAP factor for free lunches; (3) multiplying the number of lunches served at reduced price by the Section 11 NAP factor for reduced price lunches; (4) multiplying the total number of lunches served during the fiscal year in school food authorities which served 60 percent or more free or reduced price lunches in the second preceding school year by $ .02; and (5) adding together the four products obtained thereby. The NAP factors are prescribed by the Secretary in accordance with Sections 4 and 11, respectively, of the Act; the numbers of lunches are obtained from programmatic reports submitted to Food and Nutrition Service. In addition, the funding formula for snacks in after school care programs is described in Section 17 A of the Act. Section 11(a)(3) of the Act requires that the NAP factors be adjusted annually, according to changes in the Food Away From Home series of the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers; the source is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each State must appropriate from State revenues and use, for program purposes, an amount equal to 30 percent of the Section 4 funds made available to the State in the 1980-81 school year. Also, commodity schools are eligible to receive donated commodities equal in value to the sum of section 6 and section 4 assistance rates, except that up to 5 cents of this amount may be received in cash for processing and handling commodities. In addition, commodity schools are eligible for Section 11 free and reduced price meal reimbursements.

Length and Time Phasing of Assistance

For the period covered by the agreement on a fiscal-year basis.

Post Assistance Requirements


State agencies and schools file monthly reports on the number of meals served, by type, to claim program funds.

School food authorities must submit final meal claims to the State no later than 60 days after the claiming month, and States must submit final program reports to Food and Nutrition Service no later than 90 days after the claiming month.

States must submit final fiscal year grant close out reports to Food and Nutrition Service within 120 days after the end of the fiscal year to which they pertain.


In accordance with the provisions of OMB Circular No. A-133, "Audits of States, Local Governments, and Nonprofit Organizations," State and local governments, and nonprofit organizations that expended $500,000 or more under Federal awards within any fiscal year shall have either a single audit or (in certain cases) a program specific audit made for that year. Audits may be conducted less frequently under conditions specified in OMB Circular No. A-133.


Schools must maintain full and accurate records of their lunch programs. Such records shall be retained for a period of 3 years after the end of the fiscal year to which they pertain, except that if audit findings have not been resolved, the records shall be retained beyond the 3 year period as long as required for the resolution of audit findings.

Financial Information

Account Identification



(Grants) FY 07 $7,836,173,913; FY 08 est $8,209,848,000; and FY 09 est. $8,599,755,000.

Range and Average of Financial Assistance

Range and Average of Financial Assistance Average Federal cash for school year 2007 was 142.00 cents per meal and ranged from 6.0 cents for "paid" snacks to 291.00 cents for free lunches in school districts serving more than 60 percent free and reduced price lunches. State grants vary according to participation in the program.

Regulations, Guidelines, and Literature


Information Contacts

Regional or Local Office

See Appendix IV of the Catalog.

Headquarters Office

Director, Child Nutrition Division, Food and Nutrition Service, Department of Agriculture, Alexandria, VA 22302. Telephone: (703) 305-2590. Contact: Cynthia Long, Director.

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