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Summer Food Service Program History

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Special Food Service Program for Children was created. The 3-year pilot provided grants to states to help provide meals for children when school was not in session. There were two components--Child Care and Summer. In 1969, about 99,000 children participated in the summer program, at 1,200 sites.


A separate Child Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program were authorized. Residential summer camps and sites serving areas of poor economic conditions, where at least one-third of the children who qualify for free and reduced price meals, were eligible to participate in SFSP. All meals served to participating children would be reimbursed at a single reimbursement rate. Start-up and advance payments were made available for sponsors to help defray the costs of planning and organization and to help with cash flow. Summer meals were served to more than 1.75 million children, at 12,000 sites.


Program participation reached an all-time peak of nearly 2.8 million children, at 23,700 sites. In addition to growth, however several provisions contributing to abuse and inefficiency were identified. PL 95-166, enacted in November 1977, attempted to address these issues. The law required sponsors to provide year-round service, demonstrate the adequacy of their administrative and financial management, and submit complete budgets. Residential camps could only claim meals served to children eligible for free and reduced price meals. Registration for food service management companies was required.


PL 96-108 placed limitations on the size of some private nonprofit organization sponsors which purchased meals from food service management companies.


Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (PL 97-35) made major changes to the program. The law eliminated private nonprofit organization sponsors, except for schools and camps. The law also redefined "area of poor economic conditions" to mean areas where 50 percent of children would be eligible for free and reduced price meals, rather than one-third. Participation dropped from 1.9 million children at more than 20,500 sites in 1981, to less than 1.4 million children at approximately 14,400 sites in 1982.


PL 99-500 and 99-591 provided for categorical eligibility for food stamp and AFDC children.


Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 1989 (PL 101-147) readmitted private nonprofit organization sponsors (other than schools and camps), with certain conditions. The law expanded state agency outreach, training and monitoring of these organizations. It also authorized participation by meal providers serving primarily homeless children and year-round participation by National Youth Sports Program sponsors. through the 1980s and early 1990s, several pieces of legislation were passed to address the reduced participation. Due in part to these initiatives, participation rose gradually, from just over 1.4 million children at 14,600 sites in 1983, until finally topping 2 million in 1993. Since 1993, participation has remained relatively stable at slightly more than 2 million children.


Healthy Meals for Healthy Americans Act (PL 103-448) raised priority for private nonprofit sponsors with program experience, and removed the one-year waiting period for nonprofit sponsors operating in areas formerly served by school or government sites. The law also authorized operation of the SFSP at non-school sites at times other than the summer due to emergency school closure. It established start-up and expansion grants.


Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PL 104-193) included more than a dozen amendments designed generally to streamline program operations and reduce costs. The law removed expansion as a stated program goal; lowered reimbursement rates for operating costs; limited the number of reimbursable meal services for certain sponsors; eliminated participation of "academic year" National Youth Sports Program sites; and eliminated start-up and expansion grants.


William F. Goodling Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 1998 (PL 105-336) adjusted program reimbursement rates to allow higher payment rates in Alaska and Hawaii. The law modified the remaining restrictions on participation by private nonprofit organization sponsors; expanded the availability of the "offer versus serve" option; moved homeless sites into the Child and Adult Care Food Program; and eliminated Federal requirements for registering commercial vendors.


Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 (PL 106-554) authorized SFSP pilot projects to increase the number of children participating in the program in states with low participation rates. It enabled public and certain other sponsors in 13 state and in Puerto Rico to be reimbursed based on the number of meals served, without a monthly comparison of actual costs and the sponsors' approved budget to the "per meal rate." It also provided that sponsors could use administrative funds to pay for program operational expenses and vice-versa.


Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (PL 108-265) included provisions that were designed to improve program access for all eligible children, maintain high program standards and integrity, and address the problems of childhood overweight and obesity. The law bolstered many of the efforts began by USDA and the Congress to increase participation of the SFSP. It expanded the pilot project that removed cost accounting requirements to six more states and to private nonprofit sponsors. It streamlined the application process for both families and schools by requiring a single free and reduced price application for each household, and making each application or direct certification valid for 12 months. The law also permanently excluded the household allowance for military personnel living in privatized housing when determining household eligibility for free and reduced-price meals. Finally, the law established Rural Transportation Grants which, through a competitive grant process, enabled up to 60 sponsors in no more than 5 states to receive additional funds to help them provide meals to children in hard-to reach rural communities.


Section 738 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (PL 110-161) signed into law Dec. 26, 2007, extended the simplified cost accounting procedures in SFSP to all sponsors in all states nationwide.


Agriculture Appropriations Act (PL 111-80), authorized $85 million for demonstration projects to develop and test methods of providing access to food for low-income children in urban and rural areas during the summer months.


Section 103 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (PL 111-296) signed into law on Dec. 13, 2010, removed limits on the number of sites that private nonprofit organizations may operate in SFSP.

Page updated: April 07, 2023