administrative burden for schools and families. To ease the administrative burden and at the same time expand the reach of the meals programs, USDA regulations currently allow school districts to use alternative provisions for determining federal reimbursement for meals served in one or more schools in a district. Under two such alternative provisions, the district provides free meals to all students in the participating schools (supplementing federal funds with local funds) and, in exchange, takes applications from students’ families and conducts some other administrative activities at most once every 4 years.

With the 2005 inception by the U.S. Census Bureau of a major new continuous survey, the American Community Survey (ACS), which collects income and other relevant information on very large samples of families every month, FNS decided to investigate the feasibility of using data from the ACS or other sources in the administration of the school meals programs. FNS asked the National Academies’ Committee on National Statistics and Food and Nutrition Board to convene an expert panel to consider ways in which the burden could be further reduced for school districts that provide free meals to all students in participating schools by using available data to estimate the share of meal costs to be reimbursed by the federal government. This, the panel’s interim report, specifies the technical approach and work plan that the panel will follow in responding to its charge.


USDA has provided assistance to elementary and secondary schools for meals served to students for over 70 years, initially by providing food commodities and later by also reimbursing school districts for a share of the cost of meals served. The National School Lunch Act, signed by President Truman in 1946, officially authorized the NSLP, although funds had previously been appropriated for over a decade without specific legislative authority. The 1966 Child Nutrition Act expanded the program and added the SBP on a pilot basis; 1975 legislation made the SBP permanent; and 1998 legislation expanded the NSLP to include reimbursements for snacks served to students in after-school educational and enrichment programs.

Currently, the NSLP operates in over 101,000 public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. In fiscal year (FY) 2009, the program subsidized lunches to more than 31 million students each school day at an annual cost to the federal government of $9.8 billion. The SBP currently operates in more than 88,000 schools and institutions; in FY 2009, the program subsidized breakfasts to 11 million students each school day at an annual cost to the federal government of $2.6 billion.2


Data for FY 2009 were provided to the panel by FNS.

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