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California Universal Meals

Includes background, policy, provisions, webinars, resources, FAQs, and contacts regarding California’s Universal Meals Program.

Overview

In School Year (SY) 2022–23, California became the first state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program for school children. California’s Universal Meals Program (UMP) builds on the foundations of the federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). There are three key pillars to ensure the program's success:

  • Pillar One: California’s state meal mandate requires local educational agencies (LEA) to make available both a nutritiously adequate breakfast and lunch for, not just needy children, but all children each school day.
  • Pillar Two: High poverty schools are required to participate in a federal provision.
  • Pillar Three: The California State Legislature allocates funds to provide state meal reimbursement to cover the cost of the UMP.


Background

In 2022, California Education Code (EC) sections 49501.5 and 49564.3 were enacted, establishing the UMP, which updated the state meal mandate and required high poverty schools to apply for a federal provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2.

Update of State Meal Mandate

California EC Section 49501.5 requires public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools serving students in grades transitional kindergarten through grade 12 (TK–12) to provide two meals free of charge (breakfast and lunch) during each school day to students requesting a meal, regardless of their free or reduced-price meal eligibility.

Federal Provision Participation Requirement

California EC Section 49564.3 requires LEAs with high poverty schools to adopt a federal universal meal service provision, such as CEP or Provision 2. A school is considered high poverty if their identified student percentage (ISP) is over 25 percent, meaning 25 percent of enrolled students are determined eligible for free school meals through direct certification, or identification as homeless, migrant, foster, or runaway.

Supplemental State Meal Reimbursement

The CDE will provide additional per meal reimbursement to LEAs for all nutritionally adequate meals served to students, as long as the LEA is approved to participate in the federal School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs and serves U.S Department of Agriculture reimbursable meals. LEAs will still be required to abide by federal regulations and guidelines as the UMP is meant to supplement, not replace, the federal school nutrition programs.

Under California EC Section 49501.5, the meal reimbursement amount will not exceed the difference between the federal and state free reimbursement rates. Additional state reimbursements will be provided for reduced-price and paid meals to ensure LEAs receive the same reimbursement for those meal categories as they would for meals served at the free reimbursement rate.

Provisions

Universal Meals requires all public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools with high poverty schools to adopt a federal provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2.

High poverty schools are identified as any school site with an identified student percentage (ISP) of at least 25 percent. A school’s ISP is determined by dividing the number of directly certified students, including those students who are certified as foster, homeless, migrant, runaway, or participating in Head Start programs, by the total number of enrolled students. For example, if a school site has a total enrollment of 500 students and 250 of those students are eligible for meals through direct certification, the ISP of the school site is 50 percent.

Community Eligibility Provision

The CEP is a four-year reimbursement option for eligible high poverty schools. A district can decide if they want school sites to participate individually in the CEP, if they want to group some schools together in order to meet eligibility requirements, or if they want the entire district to participate. This reimbursement option is based solely on direct certification data, which means that agencies operating CEP do not have to collect household meal applications.

Reimbursement under CEP is determined by multiplying the ISP by the multiplier, which is 1.6 (a number set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture). This is the percentage of meals that can be claimed at the free rate. The meals reimbursed at the free rate will be reimbursed with federal reimbursement, while additional state reimbursement will cover the cost of any meals claimed at the paid rate.

CEP applications are due June 30 of each year. For information on how to apply for CEP, please reach out to your School Nutrition Programs Specialist by visiting the School Nutrition Programs Specialist Directory web page.

For more information on CEP, please visit the Community Eligibility Provision web page.

Provision 2

Provision 2 is another option that high poverty schools can apply for to meet the requirements of the UMP. Provision 2 requires the use of free and reduced-price meal applications, but reduces the frequency in which applications are collected and processed to once every four years. Unlike CEP, there is no minimum threshold required to participate in this provision.

Provision 2 applications are due June 30 of each year. For information on how to apply for Provision 2, please reach out to your School Nutrition Programs Specialist by visiting the School Nutrition Programs Specialist Directory web page.

For more information on Provision 2, please visit the Provision: Claiming Alternatives web page.

Guidelines

The California Department of Education (CDE) has developed these UMP Implementation Guidelines (Guidelines) in accordance with California Education Code (EC) Section 49501.5(d).

The Guidelines provide guidance to LEAs regarding applicability, eligibility, compliance, use of funds, reimbursement, complaints, civil rights, payment holds, and appeals with respect to the UMP. LEAs are subject to additional state and federal statutory and regulatory requirements outside the scope of this guidance when operating the School Nutrition Programs (SNP) and implementing the NSLP and SBP. The SNPs are also subject to compliance with the Code of Federal Regulations, California Education Code, California Code of Regulations, California Retail Code, California Health and Safety Code, California contract law, and county and local requirements. Additional guidance can be found in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) School Nutrition Policy Memoranda, USDA School Nutrition Policy Manuals and Question & Answer documents, and CDE Management Bulletins.

Universal Meals Program Implementation Guidelines (DOCX)

Resources

Listening Sessions

The Nutrition Services Division (NSD) recorded a series of listening sessions for UMP in SY 2022–23. The listening sessions provide an overview of the UMP, address any frequently asked questions, and include best practices from School Nutrition Program Operators.

Title Applicable to
Universal Meals SY 2022-23 Listening Session in May School Nutrition Program (SNP) Operators, Chief Business Officers (CBO), Food Service Directors (FSD), and Superintendents
Universal Meals SY 2022-23 Listening Session in April SNP Operators, CBOs, FSDs, and Superintendents
Universal Meals SY 2022-23 Listening Session in March SNP Operators, CBOs, FSDs, and Superintendents
Universal Meals SY 2022-23 Listening Session in February SNP Operators, CBOs, FSDs, and Superintendents
Universal Meals SY 2022-23 Listening Session in January SNP Operators, CBOs, FSDs, and Superintendents
Universal Meals SY 2022-23 Listening Session in November SNP Operators, CBOs, FSDs, and Superintendents
Universal Meals SY 2022-23 Listening Session in October SNP Operators, CBOs, FSDs, and Superintendents

Online Training Databases

To find additional online trainings, visit the:

Resources Description
Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) The CEP provides School Nutrition Program sponsors an alternative method for claiming student meals in high poverty schools.

CEP Guidance Manual External link opens in new window or tab.

U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) guidance manual for operating CEP. This includes guidance on frequently asked questions.

USDA CEP Questions & Answers (Q&A) External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)

Provides additional USDA guidance and common questions about CEP.

Local Educational Agencies (LEA) Participating in CEP

A list of LEAs currently participating in CEP. This list is updated periodically based on the most current information.

Provision 2 Manual External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)

USDA guidance manual for operating Provision 2. This includes guidance on frequently asked questions.

Provision 2

Provision 2 is a method for reducing paperwork and other administrative burdens at the local level by simplifying the traditional operating procedures for meal eligibility and meal counting.

Provision 2 Training Video External link opens in new window or tab.

By completing this interactive training module, you will learn about the important basics and benefits of Provision 2, as well as what is required of a school food authority if they apply for, and are approved to participate in, Provision 2.

CalFresh County Contacts for Direct Certification

A list of local welfare or social service office contacts to verify CalFresh participation for directly certifying students. LEAs should contact their counties to ensure they have an accurate Identified Student Percentage (ISP).

Migrant Education Regional Offices

A list of Migrant Education Office contacts. If an LEA has migrant students in their population, they should contact their Migrant Education Office to certify those students and ensure they have an accurate ISP.

Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) Q&A

To be counted as eligible for free or reduced-price meals for purposes of the LCFF, pupils must meet income eligibility criteria for the NSLP through an approved NSLP application or alternative household income data collection form, be directly certified to receive free meals, or be categorically eligible.

NSD SNP Specialists that administer the meal and milk programs offered at public and private nonprofit schools and residential child care institutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

For a list of frequently asked questions, please visit the Universal Meals Program Questions and Answers web page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions, please contact the School Nutrition Program Specialist assigned to assist your county, or your can email the School Nutrition Program Unit directly at SNPInfo@cde.ca.gov.

Subscribe to the School Nutrition Program Mailing List.

Questions:   School Nutrition Programs Unit | SNPInfo@cde.ca.gov | 1-800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, June 11, 2024
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