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Paid Lunch Equity Exemption Guidance

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Action Required, Beneficial Information

To: All School Nutrition Program Sponsors

Attention: Food Service Directors, School Business Officials

Number: SNP-02-2021

Date: September 2022

Reference: Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Section 205; Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), Section 210.14(e); U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2017 Eligibility Manual for School Meals; and USDA Policy Memoranda SP 39-2011-Revised, SP 07-2020 and SP 27-2019; The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Public Law No: 116-136); H.R.2471 Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 (Public Law No: 117-103); Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (Public Law 117-328); Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024 (Public Law 118-42)

Supercedes: SNP-10-2020; SNP-11-2019; SNP-12-2018; SNP-08-2016

Subject: Paid Lunch Equity Exemption Guidance

This management bulletin provides school food authorities (SFA) with information regarding paid lunch equity exemptions. The USDA releases Paid Lunch Equity (PLE) guidance annually. For SFAs in strong financial standing, the USDA allows the California Department of Education (CDE) to establish a process to exempt certain program operators from the requirement to increase paid lunch prices.

SFAs that do not charge students for paid lunches at all sites are considered non-pricing sites and are exempt from PLE requirements in accordance with USDA Policy SP 39-2011-Revised. Therefore, if an SFA operates all sites on the California Universal Meals Program or a Federal Provision, such as Provision 2 or the Community Eligibility Provision, PLE requirements do not apply.

An SFA with a positive or zero balance in its nonprofit school food service account as of the following dates is exempt from PLE pricing requirements found at 7 CFR, Section 210.14(e):

School Year 2024–25: June 30, 2023

School Year 2023–24: June 30, 2022

School Year 2022–23: December 31, 2021

School Year 2021–22: December 31, 2020

School Year 2020–21: December 31, 2019

School Year 2019–20: December 31, 2018

School Year 2018–19: January 31, 2018

SFAs must submit an exemption request to the CDE at the beginning of, or prior to, the start of each applicable school year. SFAs that are exempt from PLE requirements are able to set paid lunch prices at the price the SFA determines to be appropriate and may reduce their paid lunch prices.

Filing a Paid Lunch Equity Exemption

To file a PLE exemption, an SFA must submit an email to with the subject line, PLE Exemption and must include the following:

  1. SFA name and the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS) identification number.

  2. A record of a positive or zero balance in the nonprofit school food service account as of the date specified above. This documentation may include any financial statement or accounting report (e.g., trial balance, income statement, or cash flow statement). Attach the document(s) and identify the balance.

  3. Name, title, phone number, and email address of the person submitting the PLE exemption request.

  4. Statement from the SFA that they agree to cover costs with allowable nonfederal funds if the balance is in the negative for the school year.

Upon verification of a positive or zero account balance in the SFA’s nonprofit school food service account, the CDE will send a confirmation email to the SFA for the PLE exemption.

Resources and Additional Information

The USDA provides annual guidance and a PLE calculator tool so SFAs can ensure compliance with PLE pricing requirements. The PLE tool can be found in the applications download forms section of CNIPS.

For additional information on PLE and to view the CDE’s PLE training videos, please refer to the CDE Cafeteria Fund Guidance web page at

USDA PLE policy memos are available on the USDA School Meals Policy Memos web page at External link opens in new window or tab.

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact the CDE Nutrition Services Division Resource Management Unit by email at

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Thursday, April 4, 2024
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