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Special Milk Program

Information about applying for administering the Special Milk Program in camps and schools that do not participate in the federal meal programs.

Program Information

What is the Special Milk Program?

The Special Milk Program is a federally funded program which assists schools and other agencies in providing milk to children at reasonable prices. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) External link opens in new window or tab. is responsible for overseeing the program nationally. In California, the Program is administered by the California Department of Education (CDE), Nutrition Services Division.

What are the benefits of participating in the Program?

For children, the Special Milk Program provides a nutritious beverage, rich in calcium and vitamins A and D, which aids in the development of strong bones and teeth. For parents, the Program provides a low cost, convenient method of ensuring that their children receive a healthy and delicious beverage when they are away from home. Schools benefit by helping their students take at least one step in a direction that can enhance academic performance -- good nutrition.

What type of milk must be offered?

Pasteurized, fluid types of milk that meet state and local standards and contain vitamins A and D at levels specified by the Food and Drug Administration must be offered. All milk must be fat-free or low-fat. Milk with higher fat content is not allowed. Fat-free fluid milk may be flavored or unflavored, and low-fat fluid milk must be unflavored. Low-fat or fat-free, lactose-free, and reduced-lactose fluid milk may also be offered.

What is involved in operating a Special Milk Program?

The Special Milk Program must be open to all enrolled children. Two different methods may be used when charging for milk:

  1. The price charged for milk may be included in the tuition or camping fee so that all children automatically receive milk. This is called a non-pricing program.
  2. There can be a separate charge for milk, so that the purchase of milk is optional. This is called a pricing program. If there is a separate charge for milk (a pricing program), the agency may choose to provide milk at no charge to children who qualify for free milk, according to specific family size and income standards.

The agency must keep records documenting that the Program follows all federal and state rules and regulations. Some of the records that must be kept are:

  • The number of half-pints of milk served each day, by site, and if applicable, by category (free milk and purchased milk).
  • Applications for free milk submitted by the families, by site, if milk is provided at no charge to eligible children.
  • Inventory records that document the amounts and types of milk used.
  • Records of income, expenditures and contributions received.

The CDE periodically reviews each agency's Special Milk Program. Those agencies that annually receive more than $500,000 in federal funds (from all sources) must also be audited each year.

How do we get paid?

The Special Milk Program is operated on a reimbursement basis, with agencies paid based on the number of half-pints of milk served. Agencies submit a monthly reimbursement claim through the Child Nutrition Information Payment System (CNIPS). After the Department reviews and approves the claim, it is processed by the State Controller's Office and a check is issued. Agencies typically receive reimbursement within four to six weeks after submitting the reimbursement claim. Visit the fiscal Nutrition Services Web page for claim for reimbursement instructions and calculation worksheets.

For milk that is provided free of charge to eligible children, the amount of reimbursement is equal to the average cost paid by the agency for each half-pint of milk. Please see Rates, Eligibility Scales, and Funding for the current rates.

What types of agencies may participate?

With one exception, agencies that do not participate in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program (child care component or adult day care component), or Summer Food Service Program are eligible to participate in the Special Milk Program. This includes public and private nonprofit schools, licensed residential child care institutions (e.g., group homes, juvenile halls, orphanages), nursery schools, child care centers, settlement houses and summer camps.

An exception is made for those private nonprofit schools that participate in the above-mentioned child nutrition programs, but have split-session kindergarten programs that do not have access to the child nutrition program. In this situation, the private nonprofit school may participate in the Special Milk Program, and milk served in the split-session kindergarten program may be claimed for reimbursement.

Where can we get assistance?

Nutritionists and program staff from the CDE are available to provide free technical assistance and guidance on how to operate a National School Lunch Program. Assistance is available on such topics as record keeping, reporting, and clarifying federal and state regulations.

Whom do we contact?

Please see the county list of School Nutrition Programs (SNP) specialists in the Download Forms section of the CNIPS. You may also contact the SNP Unit Secretary by phone at 916-322-1450 or 800-952-5609.

Questions:   School Nutrition Programs Unit | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Monday, January 27, 2020
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