National School Lunch Program Department of Agriculture

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in 99,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 30.4 million children each school day in 2016. In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children in afterschool educational and enrichment programs to include children through 18 years of age. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the federal level. At the state level, the National School Lunch Program is usually administered by state education agencies, which operate the program through agreements with school food authorities. The National School Lunch Program provides a federal cash and commodity support for each qualified meal and snack served to students. For school years 2017-2018, a subsidy of $3.29 for each lunch served to students eligible for a free lunch, $2.89 for each eligible reduced-price lunch, and $0.37 for each lunch served in the paid category. These figures include the six cent performance-based reimbursement for school food authorities that are certified compliant with the program’s most recent meal requirements. In 2016, the National School Lunch Program spent $13.6 billion to operate the Program.

Agency Accountable Official: Brandon Lipps, Food and Nutrition Services, Administrator

Total Payments
$12.3B
Improper Payments
$1.9B
Improper Payment Rate
15.3%

Supplemental Measures

Current Measure: 91%

Target: No target established

Description: This figure summarizes State and school district success in transitioning from traditional applications that exhibit relatively high error rates, to direct certification, with much lower error rates.

Update Frequency: Annually

Data Current as of: June 30, 2017

Current Measure: 34%

Target: No target established

Description: This figure is an indirect measure of State agency investments in technology improvements and automation that reduces the risk of human error, particularly in recordkeeping and counting and claiming meals for Federal reimbursement. This figure is also reported on an annual cycle that coincides with the award of State agency grants by USDA.

Update Frequency: Annually

Data Current as of: August 30, 2017


Program Comments

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) relies on periodic nationally-representative studies to produce estimates of improper payments in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.  The Access, Participation, Eligibility, and Certification (APEC) Study created the first-ever nationally-representative estimate of payment errors in the school meals programs, for school year 2005-06.  The President’s 2011 budget requests funding for an update to the study for 2012-13.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) relies on periodic nationally-representative studies to produce estimates of improper payments in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.  The Access, Participation, Eligibility, and Certification (APEC) Study created the first-ever nationally-representative estimate of payment errors in the school meals programs, for school year 2005-06.  FNS conducted the second APEC study in school year 2012-13. The third study in the APEC series is collecting data in school year 2017-18. In order to measure improper payments in periods between major data collections, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) developed a methodology that uses data available from other sources to estimate improper payments on an annual basis.

Additional information on the program is also provided annually in the USDA Agency Financial Report found at https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/usda-fy17-agency-financial-report.pdf.