Food Assistance:

Information on Meal Costs in the National School Lunch Program

RCED-94-32BR: Published: Dec 1, 1993. Publicly Released: Dec 1, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the costs of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), focusing on the: (1) Food and Nutrition Service's (FNS) study on the cost of meals; (2) ability of school food authorities to produce meals at or below the reimbursement rate for free meals; (3) differences in meal production costs among regions; and (4) appropriateness of the index FNS uses to adjust reimbursement rates.

GAO found that: (1) FNS has concluded that the federal reimbursement rate for a free meal is roughly equivalent to the national average cost to produce the meal; (2) the small differences between the reimbursement rate and the cost of meals is not statistically significant; (3) the reimbursement rate for school years 1988 through 1989 included 8 cents' worth of bonus commodities, in addition to the entitlement commodities included in the reimbursement; (4) bonus commodities are available from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) under its agricultural price support programs, but their availability is not guaranteed to schools and their value can vary from year to year; (5) between 58 and 80 percent of school food programs are able to produce meals at or below the reimbursement rate for free meals; (6) overall meal costs are higher in the Northeast and West than in the South mostly because of higher labor costs; and (7) FNS uses a reasonable index to adjust the federal level of reimbursement.

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