Universal Meals Program Question and Answers
On July 9, 2021, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 130 Education finance: education omnibus budget trailer bill into law. Included in this bill are changes to the state meal mandate and requirements to applying for Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2. These changes are effective beginning in School Year (SY) 2022–23.
To support the implementation of the California Universal Meals Program, the Nutrition Services Division (NSD) is scheduling a series of informational and listening sessions, creating a universal meals web page, and collecting frequently asked questions (FAQs) through our universal meals mailbox UniversalMealsSY22@cde.ca.gov. Below are the top twelve FAQs submitted to the mailbox:
Which schools are required to participate?
AB 130 added Education Code (EC) Section 49501.5 that requires public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to provide a breakfast and lunch to students that request a meal, free of charge for each school day beginning in SY 2022‒23.
In order to receive state reimbursement for the two meals, local education agencies (LEA) must participate in both the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
When does this State requirement begin?
Beginning in SY 2022‒23, schools are required to implement the California Universal Meals Program.
Please note, currently in SY 2021‒22 the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided Child Nutrition Response #85 , a waiver that allows LEAs participating in federal meal programs to provide free meals to children ages 18 and under through the Seamless Summer Feeding Option. This waiver expires on June 30, 2022.
What meals can our school serve and claim to fulfill the California Universal Meals Program requirements?
LEAs can claim one breakfast and one lunch for each student served each school day. Meals served must comply with the federal program and nutrition requirements. LEAs cannot provide two meals during the same meal period, such as two breakfasts or two lunches to fulfill the requirement. After school meal supplements (snacks), are not considered a meal. Providing a snack in place of breakfast or lunch does not meet the intent of the California Universal Meals Program.
Which students are eligible for universal meals?
All students attending public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools are eligible. Exceptions exist for nonclassroom-based charter schools. Each student may request a breakfast and lunch at no charge regardless of their eligibility for free or reduced-price meals.
We do not participate in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Program, does universal free meals apply to us?
Yes, the state meal mandate applies to all LEAs as defined in Question 4 above. However, only LEAs that participate in the NSLP/SBP are eligible to receive the state meal reimbursement.
If our school does not have a cafeteria, are we exempt from providing breakfast and lunch?
No. EC 49501.5 applies to all public schools, county offices of education, and charter schools. Schools without cafeterias can meet the requirements by procuring meals from another school or a meal vendor.
Our School is low poverty, are we required to participate in the California Universal Meals Program and receive state reimbursement?
Yes, all public schools, county offices of education, and charter schools are required to provide two nutritionally adequate meals (see Question 3 above). To receive the state meal reimbursement for these meals the LEA must also participate in the NSLP and SBP will be eligible to submit claims and receive the state reimbursement for the California Universal Meals Program. There are no minimum free or reduced-price eligibility requirements to participate.
Do schools still need to collect free and reduced-price meal applications if all children are receiving free meals?
Yes, LEAs participating in NSLP and SBP will need to collect meal applications. All federal regulations still apply for the determination of eligibility for NSLP and SBP. Claims submitted for reimbursement need to be claimed in accordance with the amount of free, reduced-price and paid meals served. Exceptions for collecting applications and traditional meal counting and claiming procedures exist for schools that participate in the CEP and other Provisions.
Is there a separate application for the California Universal Meals Program?
No, there will not be a separate application specifically for the California Universal Meals Program. However, LEAs must be approved to participate in the federal NSLP and SBP to receive reimbursement for under the program. Sponsorship requires an application process and approval by the California Department of Education (CDE). To learn more about the NSLP application process, please see the CDE School Nutrition Programs Application Process web page.
Do schools have to apply for the CEP or another Provision to provide universal free meals?
Yes, LEAs with an identified student population (ISP) of 40 percent or more will be required to apply for a universal meal provision such as CEP or Provision 2 by June 30, 2022. Identified students are those that are qualified for free meals through direct certification, including students certified as homeless, runaway, migrant, or foster. The ISP is determined by dividing the total amount of identified students by the total enrollment at the school site or group of schools.
If all meals are reimbursed at the free rate, why do schools have to apply for CEP/Provisions?
The intent of the California Universal Meal Program is to comply with federal School Nutrition Program requirements and to supplement, not supplant, the federal meal reimbursement. Universal feeding provisions, like CEP, can increase the amount of federal reimbursement provided to LEAs due to the federal formula established to fund meals served under CEP. It can also reduce the burden for some LEAs and Families with applications as well.
How much reimbursement is provided for universal free meals?
The California Universal Meal Program is subject to budget appropriation. The state will provide supplemental funding intended to cover the difference between the federal free meal reimbursement rate and the reduced-price and paid reimbursement rates. This means LEAs participating in the NSLP and SBP will receive the federal reimbursement rate for meals served by student eligibility type, and additional state meal reimbursement that is the difference between the federal and state free and reduced-price meal reimbursement amount and the paid rate. For example, during the 2019‒2020 SY, if a school lunch was served to a paid student and the federal meal reimbursement rate was $0.32, under the Universal Meal Program, this meal would be eligible for an additional $3.09 in state meal reimbursement.
Reimbursement rates can be found on the CDE Rates, Eligibility Scales, and Funding web page.
More information about the establishment of the California Universal Meals Program, through AB 130 can be found on the California Legislative Information web page .More information on the CDE listserv: AB 130, Universal Meals.
A Universal Meals Listening Session is scheduled for October 5, 2021 at 2 pm. Registration is required. Listserv with registration will be sent shortly.
A CDE Management Bulletin and web page specific to the California Universal Meals Program is forthcoming.
If you have any questions regarding the Universal Meals Program, please submit them to the Nutrition Services Division’s Universal Meals inbox at UniversalMealsSY22@cde.ca.gov.