National School Lunch Program Department of Agriculture

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 101,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2009. 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 year 2009-2010, a subsidy of $2.7 for each lunch served to students eligible for a free lunch, $2.3 for each eligible reduced-price lunch, and $0.3 for each lunch served in the paid category. In 2009, the National School Lunch Program spent $8.9 billion to operate the Program.

Agency Accountable Official: Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services

Total Payments
$12B
Improper Payments
$1.8B
Improper Payment Rate
15.17%

Supplemental Measures

Current Measure: 87%

Target: No target established

Description: This measure reflects, as a percentage, the number of students directly certified for free school meals without an application (based on determination of eligibility in other programs), in comparison to the total number of students certified for free meals.

Update Frequency: Annually

Data Current as of: June 30, 2015

Current Measure: 15

Target: No target established

Description: The number of states receiving grants for school meals oversight systems. The purpose of these grants is to assist schools in reducing errors relating to record keeping and meal claiming. Increasing state grants will reduce related errors.

Update Frequency: Annually

Data Current as of: June 30, 2015


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.

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.  To update the improper payment estimates in the school meals program, a series of models were developed to translate the national estimate of error into amounts and rates of improper payments for each school district participating in the study.  Aggregating the district level estimates produces a national measure of predicted improper payments.

FNS is working toward a way to depict the percentage of errors by type – certification and non-certification errors – that could be provided to the public.  Additional information on the program is also provided annually in the USDA Performance and Accountability Report.