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Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)

Why CACFP Is Important

Last Modified: 09/22/2014

USDA's Child and Adult Care Food Program plays a vital role in improving the quality of day care and making it more affordable for many low-income families. Each day, 3.3 million children receive nutritious meals and snacks through CACFP. The program also provides meals and snacks to 120,000 adults who receive care in nonresidential adult day care centers. CACFP reaches even further to provide meals to children residing in emergency shelters, and snacks and suppers to youths participating in eligible afterschool care programs.

A General Overview

CACFP is authorized at section 17 of the National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1766). Program regulations are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under 7 CFR part 226.

Program Administration

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers CACFP through grants to States. The program is administered within most States by the State educational agency. In a few States it is administered by an alternate agency, such as the State health or social services department. The child care component and the adult day care component of CACFP may be administered by different agencies within a State, at the discretion of the Governor.

Independent centers and sponsoring organizations enter into agreements with their administering State agencies to assume administrative and financial responsibility for CACFP operations. CACFP serves nutritious meals and snacks to eligible children and adults who are enrolled for care at participating child care centers, day care homes, and adult day care centers. CACFP also provides meals and snacks to children and youth who participate in afterschool care programs or reside in emergency shelters.

Child Care Centers

Eligible public or private nonprofit child care centers, outside-school-hours care centers, Head Start programs, and other institutions which are licensed or approved to provide day care services may participate in CACFP, independently or as sponsored centers. For profit centers must receive title XX funds for at least 25 percent of enrolled children or licensed capacity (whichever is less) or at least 25 percent of the children in care must be eligible for free and reduced price meals. Meals served to children are reimbursed at rates based upon a child's eligibility for free, reduced price, or paid meals.

Day Care Homes

A family or group day care home must sign an agreement with a sponsoring organization to participate in CACFP. Day care homes must be licensed or approved to provide day care services.  Reimbursement for meals served in day care homes is based upon eligibility for tier I rates (which targets higher levels of reimbursement to low-income areas, providers, or children) or lower tier II rates.

Afterschool Care Programs

Community-based programs that offer enrichment activities for at-risk children and youth, 18 and under, after the regular school day ends, can provide free meals and snacks through CACFP. Programs must be offered in areas where at least 50 percent of the children are eligible for free and reduced price meals based upon school data.

Emergency Shelters

Since July 1, 1999, public or private nonprofit emergency shelters which provide residential and food services to children and youth experiencing homelessness may participate in CACFP. Eligible shelters may receive reimbursement for serving up to three meals each day to residents 18 and under.  Unlike most other CACFP facilities, emergency they must meet any health and safety codes that are required by state or local law.

Adult Day Care Centers

Public or private nonprofit adult day care facilities which provide structured, comprehensive services to nonresidential adults who are functionally impaired, or aged 60 and older, may participate in CACFP as independent or sponsored centers. For profit centers may be eligible for CACFP if at least 25 percent of their participants receive benefits under title XIX or title XX.  Meals served to adults receiving care are reimbursed at rates based upon a participant's eligibility for free, reduced price, or paid meals.

Reimbursement in Day Care and Non-traditional Centers

Independent centers and sponsoring organizations receive cash reimbursement for serving meals to enrolled children and adults that meet Federal nutritional guidelines.

The CACFP meal pattern varies according to age and types of meal served. Centers and day care homes may be approved to claim up to two reimbursable meals (breakfast, lunch or supper) and one snack, or two snacks and one meal, to each eligible participant, each day. Emergency shelters may claim up to three reimbursable meals (breakfast, lunch and supper) to each eligible resident, each day. Afterschool care programs may claim reimbursement for serving one meal and one snack to each eligible participant, each day.

Reimbursement for centers is computed by claiming percentages, blended per meal rates, or actual meal count by type (breakfast, lunch, supper, or snack) and eligibility category (free, reduced price, and paid). The State agency assigns a method of reimbursement for centers, based on meals multiplied by rates, or the lesser of meals multiplied by rates versus actual documented costs.

Reimbursement for emergency shelters and afterschool care programs is based on the actual meal count by type (breakfast, lunch, supper, or snack) multiplied by the free rate.

Reimbursement in Day Care Homes

Program payments for day care homes are based on the number of meals served to enrolled children, multiplied by the appropriate reimbursement rate for each breakfast, lunch, supper, or snack they are approved to serve. Sponsoring organizations also receive administrative funds related to the documented costs they incur in planning, organizing, and managing CACFP.

Tier I day care homes are those that are located in low-income areas, or those in which the provider's household income is at or below 185 percent of the Federal income poverty guidelines. Sponsoring organizations may use elementary school free and reduced price enrollment data or census block group data to determine which areas are low-income.

Tier II homes are those family day care homes which do not meet the location or provider income criteria for a tier I home. The provider in a tier II home may elect to have the sponsoring organization identify income-eligible children, so that meals served to those children who qualify for free and reduced price meals would be reimbursed at the higher tier I rates.

A child's eligibility for tier I rates in a tier II day care home may be documented through submission of an income eligibility statement which details family size and income or participation in any of a number of means-tested State or Federal programs with eligibility at or below 185 percent of poverty.

USDA Foods or Cash-in-lieu of USDA Foods

In addition to cash reimbursement, USDA makes donated agricultural foods or cash-in-lieu of donated foods available to institutions participating in CACFP.

Pricing of Program Meals

Centers participating in CACFP may charge a single fee (nonpricing program) to cover tuition, meals, and all other day care services, or they may charge separate fees for meals (pricing program). The free and reduced price policy statement describes the institution's pricing policy. All day care homes and the vast majority of centers participate in CACFP as nonpricing programs, since the fees they charge cover all areas of their day care services.

Funding Program Benefits

FNS provides cash assistance to each State agency for meals served to eligible children and adults in day care centers based upon the participant's eligibility under the Income Eligibility Guidelines for free, reduced price, or paid meals. National average payments for meals served in centers are adjusted annually on July 1, to reflect changes in the Food Away From Home series of the Consumer Price Index. Payments for meals served in day care homes are also adjusted annually on July 1, based on changes in the Food at Home series of the Consumer Price Index.

The level of reimbursement for meals served to enrolled children in day care homes is determined by economic need, based on either the location of the day care home, or the household income of the day care home provider, or the household income of each enrolled child. Meals served to the day care home provider's own children are reimbursable only if those children are determined eligible for free and reduced price meals.

The level of donated USDA foods is based on the numbers of lunches and suppers served in centers in the preceding year, multiplied by the national average payment for donated foods.  The value of donated foods or cash in lieu of donated foods is also adjusted annually on July 1, to reflect changes in the Food Used in Schools and Institutions series of the Consumer Price Index.

Funding State-Level Administrative Costs

FNS makes State Administrative Expense (SAE) funds available to State agencies for administrative expenses incurred in supervising and giving technical assistance to institutions participating in CACFP. SAE requirements are prescribed at 7 CFR part 235.

Additional funds are also available to States to help State agencies and institutions comply with Federal audit requirements. "One and a half percent audit funds" is equal to 1.5 percent of the reimbursement payments made to the State, during the second fiscal year preceding the year for which the funds are to be made available.

Participant Eligibility and Program Benefits

CACFP serves nutritious meals and snacks to children and adults who attend eligible day care programs.

Eligible Population

Section 226.2 of the regulations describes who may receive CACFP meal benefits.

Children means"(a) Persons age 12 and under; (b) Persons age 15 and under who are children of migrant workers; (c) Persons of any age who have one or more disabilities, as determined by the State, and who are enrolled in an institution or child care facility serving a majority of persons who are age 18 and under; (d) For emergency shelters, persons age 18 and under; and (e) For at-risk afterschool care centers, persons age 18 and under at the start of the school year."

Providers' own children are eligible only in tier I day care homes, when other nonresidential children are enrolled in the day care home and are participating in the meal service.

Adult participant means "a person enrolled in an adult day care center who is functionally impaired ... or 60 years of age or older." The adult component of CACFP is targeted to individuals who remain in the community and reside with family members. Individuals who reside in institutions are not eligible for CACFP benefits.

Determining Eligibility

In centers, participants from households with incomes at or below 130 percent of poverty are eligible for free meals. Participants in centers with household incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of poverty are eligible for meals at a reduced price. Institutions must determine each enrolled participant's eligibility for free and reduced price meals served in centers.

Sponsoring organizations of day care homes must determine which day care homes are eligible for tier I rates and, if requested, which children are eligible to receive meals reimbursed at tier I rates in tier II day care homes.

A participant's eligibility for free and reduced price meals in centers or for tier I meals in day care homes, may be established by submission of an income eligibility statement, which provides information about family size and income. The information submitted by each household is compared with USDA's Income Eligibility Guidelines. Children whose families receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), or State programs funded through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are categorically eligible for free meals.

Children who are participants of Head Start or Even Start programs are automatically eligible for free meals, without further application or eligibility determination. Foster children, who are the responsibility of the State or placed by the court, and children who are experiencing homelessness, are also automatically eligible for free meals.

Adults who receive food stamps, FDPIR, Social Security Income (SSI), or Medicaid benefits are categorically eligible for free meals.

Claiming Reimbursement for Meals Served

Institutions must submit accurate monthly claims for reimbursement to their administering agencies. Reimbursement is not allowed for meals or snacks that are: served to a child or an adult who is not enrolled for care; served in excess of licensed or authorized capacity; not approved in the agreement; served in excess of the maximum number of approved meal services or out of compliance with meal pattern requirements.

Meals served at for profit centers during a calendar month when less than 25 percent of the center's enrollment or licensed capacity (whichever is less) receive title XIX or title XX benefits or are eligible for free and reduced price meals may not be claimed for reimbursement.

Meals served to adults which are claimed for reimbursement under part C of title III of the Older Americans Act may not be claimed under CACFP.

Emergency shelters may not claim reimbursement for meals served to children who are not residents.