School Meal Programs:

Estimated Costs for Three Administrative Processes at Selected Locations

GAO-02-944: Published: Sep 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 2002.

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Each school day, millions of children receive meals and snacks provided through the National School Lunch and National School Breakfast Programs. Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through these school meal programs, and children from households that apply and meet established income guidelines can receive these meals free or at a reduced price. The federal government reimburses the states, which in turn reimburse school food authorities for each meal served. During fiscal year 2001, the federal government spent $8 billion in reimbursements for school meals. The Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, state agencies, and school food authorities all play a role in these school meal programs. GAO reported that costs for the application, verification, and meal counting and reimbursement processes for the school meal programs were incurred mainly at the local level. Estimated federal and state-level costs during school year 2000-2001 for these three processes were generally much less than 1 cent per program dollar administered. At the local level--selected schools and the related school food authorities--the median estimated cost for these processes was 8 cents per program dollar and ranged from 3 cents to 16 cents per program dollar. The largest costs at the local level were for counting meals and submitting claims for reimbursement. Estimated costs related to the application process were the next largest, and estimated verification process costs were the lowest of the three.

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