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California Universal Meals

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

Overview

Beginning in School Year (SY) 2022–23, California will become the first state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program for school children. California’s Universal Meals Program (Universal Meals) is designed to build on the foundations of the federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). There are three key pillars that have been established to ensure that the program is a success:

  • Pillar One: California’s State Meal Mandate is expanded to include both a nutritiously adequate breakfast and lunch for, not just needy children, but all children each school day.
  • Pillar Two: High poverty schools will be required to participate in a federal provision.
  • Pillar Three: The California State Legislature allocates funds to provide additional state meal reimbursement to cover the cost of the Universal Meals Program.

Background

On July 9, 2021, Assembly Bill (AB) 130 (McGuire) Education finance: education omnibus budget trailer bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom. Beginning in SY 2022–23, AB 130 establishes a California Universal Meals Program with changes to the state meal mandate and new requirements for high poverty schools to apply for a federal provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2.

Additionally, $150 million in one-time funding was made available during the 2021–22 SY to support kitchen infrastructure upgrades and nutrition related staff training for districts as they prepare for the implementation of Universal Meals. For more information, visit the Kitchen Infrastructure and Training Funds web page.

AB 130 External link opens in new window or tab. can be found on the California Legislative Information web page. External link opens in new window or tab.

The California Department of Education (CDE) is committed to working with sponsors on the successful implementation of Universal Meals in SY 2022–23. We will continue to release updates, provide resources including frequently asked questions, offer training and listening sessions, solicit sponsors feedback, highlight best practices for collecting the federally required income information, and issue formal policy guidance including management bulletins.

Update of State Meal Mandate

Commencing in SY 2022–23, Education Code (EC) 49501.5 requires public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools serving students in grades 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

On or before June 30, 2022, EC 49564.3 requires local educational agencies (LEAs) with high poverty schools to adopt a federal universal meal service provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2. A school is considered high poverty if their identified student percentage (ISP) is over 40 percent, meaning 40 percent of enrolled students are determined eligible for free or reduced-price school meals through direct certification, or identification as homeless, migrant, foster, or runaway.

Supplemental State Meal Reimbursement

The CDE will reimburse LEAs for all nonreimbursed expenses accrued in providing federally reimbursable meals to students, as long as the LEA participates 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 Universal Meals is meant to supplement, not replace, the federal school nutrition programs.

Under EC 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, by June 30, 2022.

High poverty schools are identified as any school site with an identified student percentage (ISP) of at least 40 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. Participating in CEP can bring additional federal dollars to the state and reduces the fiscal burden. Federal reimbursement is based on the percentage of students who are directly certified. And under the Universal Meals Program, state reimbursement will cover the cost of any meals claimed at the paid rate of reimbursement.

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 local educational agencies can apply for to meet the requirements of Universal Meals. 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.

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.

Resources

Listening Sessions

The Nutrition Services Division (NSD) hosts a series of listening sessions for Universal Meals beginning in SY 2022–23. The listening sessions provide an overview of Universal Meals, address any frequently asked questions, and include best practices from School Nutrition Operators. Information on registering for the live listening session webinars can be found on the California Department of Education (CDE) NSD Nutrition What’s New web page, under the Training tab.

Please note: After a listening session webinar has been recorded, it takes approximately four to six weeks for the recording to become available.

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.

CEP Contact List

A list and contact information for CEP early adopters.

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.

Nutrition Services Division School Nutrition Programs 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 Meal Program Questions and Answers web page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions, please contact the California Department of Education Nutrition Services Division by email at UniversalMealsSY22@cde.ca.gov.

Subscribe to the School Nutrition Program Mailing List.

Questions:   School Nutrition Programs Unit | UniversalMealsSY22@cde.ca.gov | 1-800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Monday, August 1, 2022
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