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Non-congregate Meal Service Options in Rural Areas

This management bulletin provides guidance on non-congregate meal service options in rural areas in the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option.

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: School Nutrition Program Operators, Summer Food Service Program Operators

Attention: Program Operators

 

Number: SNP-05-2024; SFSP-06-2024

Date: April 2024

Reference: Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), Section 225; SFSP 07-2024, SP 13-2024 Non-congregate Meal Service in Rural Areas Questions and Answers; SFSP 08-2014, SP 15-2024 Non-congregate Meal Service in Rural Areas: Questions and Answers #2

Supersedes: SNP-24-2019; SFSP-04-2019

Subject: Non-congregate Meal Service Options in Rural Areas in Summer Meal Programs


This management bulletin provides guidance on rural non-congregate meal service options in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO), collectively referred to as the Summer Meal Programs (SMP).

Overview

On December 29, 2023, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the Interim Final Rule: Establishing the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer Program and Rural Non-congregate Option in the Summer Meal Programs available at https://www.fns.usda.gov/summer/fr-122923.

The interim final rule (IFR) codified permanent rural non-congregate summer meal service for both the SFSP and the SSO where no congregate meal service is available. In addition to the interim final rule, the USDA has also issued additional guidance including Questions and Answers policy memos. This guidance can be located on the USDA Non-congregate Summer Meal Service web page at https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/non-congregate.

Non-congregate Meal Service Option in Rural Areas

With approval from the California Department of Education (CDE), SMP operators may provide non-congregate meal services in rural areas.

Non-congregate meal service is a food service model at which meals are provided for children to consume off site. Non-congregate meal service must only be operated at sites designated as “Rural” with no “Congregate meal service,” as determined in 7 CFR 225.6(h)(3) and 7 CFR 225.6(h)(4).

To be approved to operate a non-congregate meal service, SMP operators must have the administrative capability; the capacity to meet state and local health, safety, and sanitation requirements; and, where applicable, have the adequate food preparation and holding facilities to serve non-congregate meals (7 CFR 225.16[b][5]). SMP operators must also have written internal controls for program accountability to comply with program requirements and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse.

Rural Site

SMP operators in good standing can be approved to provide a non-congregate meal service in rural areas only. The IFR expanded the definition of a rural site. A rural site means:

  • Any area in a county which is not a part of a Metropolitan Statistical Area based on the Office of Management and Budget's Delineations of Metropolitan Statistical Areas;
  • Any area in a county classified as a non-metropolitan area based on USDA Economic Research Service's Rural-Urban Continuum Codes and Urban Influence Codes;
  • Any census tract classified as a non-metropolitan area based on USDA Economic Research Service's Rural-Urban Commuting Area codes;
  • Any area of a Metropolitan Statistical Area which is not part of a Census Bureau-defined urban area;
  • Any area of a state which is not part of an urban area as determined by the secretary;
  • Any subsequent substitution or update of the aforementioned classification schemes that Federal governing bodies create; or
  • Any pocket within a Metropolitan Statistical Area which, at the option of the CDE and with approval from the USDA Food and Nutrition Services Western Region Office, is determined rural in character based on other data sources.

To determine if a summer meal site meets the rural definition, the USDA Rural Designation Map is available at https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/rural-designation. SMP operators are required to retain documentation of rural status with their SMP site application. Once established, a rural designation is valid for five years (7 CFR 225.6[g]). 

Non-congregate Meal Service Options/Methods

Federal regulations allow for several meal service methods for SMP operators in good standing. These options include multi-day issuance, parent/guardian meal pick up, bulk meals, and home delivery.

SMP operators who wish to opt-in to these meal service methods must report these options on the appropriate site application in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS) and have written procedures in place to ensure program integrity while serving, distributing, and claiming meals under the respective summer meal program. All written procedures must reflect the process by which program accountability and integrity are maintained. Procedures must be on file at the feeding site and be made available to the CDE upon request. SMP operators must submit a signed Rural Non-congregate Program Integrity Plan with their non-congregate site applications.

Multi-Day Issuance

Federal regulations allow for SMP operators to distribute up to 10 calendar days of meals in one meal distribution at an approved non-congregate site (7 CFR 225.16[i][1]). Sponsors must have documented procedures in place to ensure that the proper number of meals are distributed to each eligible child and have a system in place to ensure duplicate meals are not distributed or claimed.

SMP operators must ensure that meals distributed contain the required food components for each reimbursable meal served, that meal counts are recorded at the point of service, and that meal distribution adheres to all local health and food safety requirements.

Meals must be distributed with written food safety and sanitation guidelines including but not limited to, instructions on meal storage and disposal, and refrigeration and heating (when applicable).

Bulk Meals

Approved self-preparation sponsors may provide bulk food items that meet the minimum amounts of each food component of a reimbursable meal or snack. SMP operators must ensure that the required food components for each reimbursable meal are served. All food items that contribute to a reimbursable meal must be clearly identifiable and menus must be provided to participants, clearly indicating the food items and portion sizes for each reimbursable meal. Meal preparation such as heating and warming, must be minimal (7 CFR 225.16 [i][3]).

SMP operators must ensure that the maximum number of reimbursable meals provided to a child does not exceed the number of meals that could be provided over a 5-calendar day period.

Parent/Guardian Meal Pick Up

In accordance with 7 CFR 225.16(i)(2), approved sponsors may distribute meals to parents or guardians to take home to their children. Sponsors electing this option must have written documented procedures in place, to ensure that meals are only distributed to parents or guardians of eligible children and that duplicate meals are not distributed. Procedures must be on file at the feeding site and be made available to the CDE upon request.

A parent/guardian is an individual that maintains a caregiver relationship between themselves and the child on the day of the meal service (SFSP 08-2024, SP 15-2024 Question 26).

Individuals caring for groups of unrelated children formally enrolled in care are not considered guardians and cannot collect program meals on behalf of parents or guardians for children attending their childcare (SFSP-08-2024, SP 15-2024 Questions 26 and 27).

Home Delivery

Federal regulations allow for SMP operators to deliver non-congregate meals directly to a child’s residence, which must be located in a rural area and be area eligible. SMP operators are required to obtain and maintain written parental consent, as described in 7 CFR 225.14(d)(6) prior to providing meals to children in that household. For the purposes of program monitoring, a child’s residence is not considered a non-congregate meal site (7 CFR 225.2).

Non-congregate home delivery may not be sent to daycare home programs, short term rentals, or vacation properties (SFSP 08-2024, SP 15-2024 Question 30).

The SMP operator approved to operate a non-congregate meal service using home delivery must be able to identify and invite households of eligible children to participate in the meal delivery service. The written consent from the eligible child’s parent or guardian could include a hard copy, email, or other electronic means of communication. Sponsors must confirm the household’s current contact information, and the number of eligible children in the household to ensure the correct number of meals are delivered to the correction location (SFSP 07-2024, SP 13-2024 Question 14).

Federal regulations require that if a sponsor is not a school food authority (SFA) and plans to obtain individual children’s program eligibility through free and reduced-price school meal eligibility data, then the sponsor must enter into a written agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the SFA to use the data for this purpose (7 CFR 225.14[d][8]).

As an alternative to entering into a written agreement or MOU with the local SFA, non-SFA sponsors may collect their own eligibility data using the household application procedures outlined in program regulations at 7 CFR 225.15(f) to identify eligible children in non-area eligible areas (SFSP 07-2024, SP 13-2024 Question 14). Operators must protect the confidentiality of participants and their households throughout the process and ensure proper handling and storage of student data in accordance with the National School Lunch Act and SFSP regulations (7 CFR 225.15[f] through [l]).

Meal Service Options for Summer Meal Sites

Urban sites are required to serve congregate meals. Rural sites can be approved by the CDE to provide either a congregate or a non-congregate meal service. These meal service options are further defined in 7 CFR 225.2.

Rural sites may provide both congregate and non-congregate meal services at the same site. For example, a site could offer a congregate breakfast and a non-congregate lunch as the children are leaving the site. However, a site may not provide the non-congregate lunch and congregate breakfast simultaneously. The sponsor must have a system in place to prevent meal service overlap, ensuring children do not receive more than the maximum daily meal allowances as required in 7 CFR 225.16(b)(3) (SFSP 08-2024, SP 15-2024 Question 11).

Congregate Meal Service

A congregate meal service is a food service at which meals that are provided to children are consumed on site in a supervised setting.

Non-congregate Meal Service

A non-congregate meal service is a food service at which meals are provided for children to consume all the components off site. Non-congregate meal service must only be operated at sites designated as “Rural” with no “Congregate meal service,” as determined in 7 CFR 225.6(h)(3) and 7 CFR 225.6(h)(4).

Conditional Non-congregate Site

A conditional non-congregate site is a site which qualifies for program participation because it conducts a non-congregate meal service for eligible children in an area that does not meet the definition of areas in which poor economic conditions exist and is not a camp.

Sites requesting to operate as a conditional non-congregate site must make individual eligibility determinations for each child to get reimbursement. SFSP sponsors can charge for meals provided to children who are not determined to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals at conditional non-congregate sites.

Compliance Notification

Program operators are required to accurately report site information to the CDE, including properly classifying the site type and eligibility data in each SFSP site application in the CNIPS (7 CFR 225.6[a][3]). Documentation demonstrating that the eligibility requirements for each site are met, as outlined in sections 225.2 and 225.6(g) of 7 CFR, must be retained with the sponsors records and made available upon request.

As part of the administrative review process, the CDE may conduct unannounced site visits during any time of program operations. If noncompliance is identified, it may affect a program operator’s future participation in the SMPs. Meals that are identified to be out of compliance with program regulations may be disallowed, which could result in fiscal penalties against the program operator.

Resources

SMP operators must utilize the USDA Rural Designation Map to identify sites eligible to offer non-congregate summer meals. The map is available at https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/rural-designation.

For more information about site types, including how to determine area eligibility for participating sites, please review SFSP management bulletin SFSP-04 2024 available at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/sf/mbsfsp042024.asp.

A program integrity checklist is available for SMP operators who wish to serve non-congregate meals in rural areas. The checklist is available in the CNIPS Download Forms page.

  • SFSP Operators: Form ID SFSP 36
  • SSO Operators: Form ID SSO 2

Please visit the USDA Non-congregate Summer Meal Service web page for a complete listing of USDA guidance documents and resources at https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/non-congregate.

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact the Summer Nutrition Programs and Grants Unit by email SFSP@cde.ca.gov.

Questions:   Summer Nutrition Programs and Grants Unit | SFSP@cde.ca.gov
Last Reviewed: Monday, April 29, 2024
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