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National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

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, U.S. Department of Agriculture



Total Payments (Outlays)more info


Improper Paymentsmore info


Improper Payment Ratemore info


15.5% Improper Payment Rate Target more info

All amounts are in billions of dollars

Tabular view for Projected improper payments Tabular View   

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. Read More...