To combat food insecurity during the summer months, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides nutritious meals to children in low-income areas when school is not in session.
There are three common SFSP site types: open sites, closed enrolled sites, and camps. Open sites make meals available to all children in the area on a first come, first served basis and are located in areas where at least 50 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Closed enrolled sites provide free meals to children enrolled in an activity program at the site where at least half of them are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Camps receive reimbursement only for meals served to enrolled children who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
The SFSP Integrity study was designed to improve understanding of how state agencies provide oversight of the SFSP. To address the research objectives, the study examined such areas as sponsor and site selection, training and technical assistance, meal counting and claiming, and reviews. The findings also offered some preliminary responses about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SFSP operations.
The study involved a four-part sequential data collection effort, conducted between January and August 2021:
- An online survey of all state agencies that administer the SFSP (50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands);
- In-depth telephone interviews with 18 state child nutrition directors;
- In-depth telephone interviews with 48 SFSP sponsors operating within the interviewed states; and
- In-depth telephone interviews with 48 SFSP sites overseen by the sponsors interviewed.
- States reported greater challenges identifying sponsors in rural areas than urban or suburban areas.
- States cited financial management and administrative capacity as the best indicators of whether new sponsors will be successful. Most states believed pre-approval visits effectively identified potential problems.
- There were few patterns among sponsors and states regarding the most common causes of meal counting or claiming errors.
- Waivers of area eligibility and congregate feeding requirements issued during the COVID-19 pandemic reduced administrative burden for sponsors, sites, and households.