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Meaningful Access for Persons with Limited English Proficiency in the School Meal Programs: Guidance and Q&As

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DATE: May 25, 2016
SUBJECT: Meaningful Access for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) in the School Meal Programs: Guidance and Q&As
TO: Regional Directors
Special Nutrition Programs
All Regions
State Directors
Child Nutrition Programs
All States

The intent of the school meal programs is to provide nutritious and appealing meals that support the growth and development of students during the school day. In order to connect children in need with healthy meals, schools must make families aware of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program (SBP), and the Special Milk Program (SMP). They also must reduce barriers to participation and certify children who are eligible for free and reduced price meals within 10 operating days of the receipt of the application. Some schools, however, face challenges in reaching eligible students from households comprised of individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

The purpose of this memorandum is to remind local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools that they are required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to school meals for eligible students from households comprised of LEP individuals. This memorandum summarizes existing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) guidance intended to assist Program participants in providing meaningful access for LEP persons. Guidance incorporated in this memorandum is described in detail below.

USDA guidance released in 2014 requires State agencies, LEAs, and schools that receive Federal funding to ensure language is not a barrier to receiving school meal benefits. State agencies, LEAs, and schools are required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access for individuals with LEP to the information and services they provide. Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding the Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Persons With Limited English Proficiency is available at: Agency-specific requirements are included in FNS Instruction 113-1: Civil Rights Compliance and Enforcement – Nutrition Programs and Activities.

In addition, as required by Section 9(b) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, 42 USC 1758(b), and program regulations at 7 CFR 245.5, LEAs must publicly announce the availability of free and reduced price meals. The announcement must include an assurance that there will be no discrimination against LEP persons in the school meal programs. An overview of the public announcement requirement may be found in the Eligibility Manual for School Meals, available at:

Additionally, this memorandum consolidates and supersedes the following FNS guidance:

  • SP 42-2012, Application and Other Household Materials for Limited English Proficient Households - Reminder, Aug. 16, 2012;
  • SP 44-2011, CACFP 25-2011, SFSP 18-2011, Translations for the Free and Reduced Price School Meals Application and CACFP Meal Benefit Income Eligibility Form, Aug. 3, 2011;
  • SP 23-2006, Free and Reduced Price School Meals Application Package Translations, June 22, 2006;
  • SP 14-2006, Reauthorization 2004: Communications Concerning Verification Activities, Dec. 23, 2005; and
  • Translation of Free and Reduced Price Application Prototypes for People with Limited English Proficiency, Nov. 22, 2005.

FNS is issuing this guidance in a Question and Answer (Q&A) format to provide straightforward responses to questions that FNS has received regarding communications with LEP individuals. Topics include:

  • General information about language access for LEP persons;
  • Identification and assessment of the language assistance needs of LEP persons and the resources to serve them;
  • Translation of vital information using qualified, competent translators;
  • Provision of oral interpretation services using qualified, competent interpreters; and
  • Other factors to consider when developing procedures for serving LEP persons.

State agencies are reminded to distribute this memorandum and attachments to program operators immediately. LEAs, school food authorities, and other program operators should direct any questions concerning this guidance to their state agency. State agencies with questions should contact the appropriate FNS regional office.

Angela Kline
Policy and Program Development Division
Child Nutrition Programs

Page updated: March 10, 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.