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Unpaid Meal Charges: Guidance and Q&As

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Policy Memos
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PDF Icon Policy Memo (125.51 KB)
DATE: March 23, 2017
MEMO CODE: SP 23-2017
SUBJECT: Unpaid Meal Charges: Guidance and Q&A
TO: Regional Directors
Special Nutrition Programs
All Regions
State Directors
Child Nutrition Programs
All States

This Question and Answer (Q&A) memorandum is designed to provide an overview of policies related to unpaid meal charges in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and to address common questions the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received from State agencies, school food authorities (SFAs), and local program operators.

The attached questions have been grouped under five headings: Meal Charge Policies, Student Eligibility for Free or Reduced Price Meals, Payment Options and Payment Reminders, Alternate Meals, and Debt Collections.

This updated version includes one new question (Question 13) and four revised questions (Questions 11, 19, 20, and 21). These questions were added or revised to address clarifications requested by stakeholders and are marked as [New/Revised]within the attachment. FNS will revise this Q&A as needed to address other questions as they arise. The attached Q&A supersedes SP 57-2016: Unpaid Meal Charges: Guidance and Q&A, Sept. 16, 2016.

Additional Policy Guidance and Resources

This Q&A supplements other FNS policy memoranda related to unpaid meal charges, which include the following:

FNS has developed additional resources state agencies and SFAs can use in their effort to address the challenge of unpaid meal charges. These resources are available on the FNS Unpaid Meal Charges website ( and include:

  • A guide summarizing FNS policy guidance and best practices from state agencies, schools, and other key stakeholders;
  • Webinars sharing ideas and strategies to address unpaid meal charges; and
  • Other relevant policy memoranda and guidance documents developed by FNS.

State agencies are reminded to distribute this information to program operators immediately. Program operators should direct any questions regarding this memorandum to the appropriate state agency. State agencies should direct questions to the appropriate FNS regional office.

Angela M. Kline
Policy and Program Development Division
Child Nutrition Programs


Q&A Topics
Page updated: March 11, 2022

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.