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Food and Nutrition Programs

Questions and Answers for 2023 SFSP Operational Guidance: Non-congregate meal service in rural sites

To:Sponsors of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
From:Robert M. Leshin, Director
Office for Food and Nutrition Programs
Date:April 25, 2023

On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 which included significant policy changes for Child Nutrition programming, including the authorization of a permanent, non-congregate meal service through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) for designated rural areas where households do not have access to congregate meal service.

This memorandum provides guidance for Program operators on how to implement the SFSP inclusive of rural non-congregate meal service during summer 2023. All standard program requirements are still applicable unless otherwise specified. Program operators should be advised that the following guidance for implementing non-congregate meal service in summer 2023 may not be the same as the regulatory requirements that will be codified for summer 2024 and beyond.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Office for Food and Nutrition Programs (FNP) continues to await guidance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regarding oversight and monitoring specifically pertaining to non-congregate operations.

SFSP Questions and Answers

Sponsor, Site, and Participant Eligibility

  1. How has it been determined which sponsors are in a rural area?

    The SFSP regulations (7 CFR 225.2) define rural as: (a) any area in a county which is not a part of a Metropolitan Statistical Area or; (b) any "pocket" within a Metropolitan Statistical Area1 which, at the option of the State agency and with FNS concurrence, is determined to be geographically isolated from urban areas.

    MA DESE is awaiting approval by FNS to utilize the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's (DPH) State Office of Rural Health (SORH)'s designated under-served, rural communities for potential non-congregate meal service in the SFSP.

  2. What are the requirements related to site caps for non-congregate meal service in designated rural areas?

    The site cap requirement remains for both congregate and non-congregate meal service. A site cap is established for all sites during the application and approval process. When evaluating a proposed food service site, FNP must ensure that sites have adequate facilities and capacity to prepare and/or distribute meals for the number of children they are approved to serve. For non-congregate meal sites, site caps must be set to ensure that only one meal per child per meal service is prepared and distributed. Site caps may be adjusted and approved by FNP as necessary.

Meal Service Operations

  1. Where can a sponsor provide non-congregate meals?

    Sponsors can provide non-congregate summer meals in designated rural areas where households do not have access to congregate meal service. For area-eligible sites in a designated rural area, meals for all children may be claimed for reimbursement. If the designated rural site is not deemed area-eligible, only the meals served to children who are eligible for free or reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Program (NLSP) or the School Breakfast Program (SBP) may be claimed.

  2. Can non-congregate meals be provided in non-rural areas if Program access is limited because of lack of transportation, safety concerns, lack of a location to serve meals, or other similar reasons?

    No. Non-congregate meal service is only allowed in designated rural areas indicated by the MA SORH rural map where congregate meal service is not available to households. Our office aims to work with sponsors to determine how best to leverage community resources to provide a congregate meal service that meets the needs of children in non-rural areas.

  3. May a non-congregate site operate in close proximity to a congregate site that is closed enrolled or a camp?

    Non-congregate meal service can potentially be provided by sites that are in close proximity to congregate service sites, such as camps or closed enrolled sites. However, FNP will work with sponsors to ensure that the congregate and non-congregate sites will not serve the same population of children for the same meal service on the same day.

  4. Can existing designated rural sites switch from congregate to non-congregate meal service?

    Yes. However, the non-congregate option is not intended to replace congregate meal service. USDA understands the benefits of congregate meal service and often the accompanying activities and encourages sponsors to continue to provide these opportunities when feasible.

  5. Can sponsors eligible and approved for non-congregate meal service provide multiple days' worth of meals?

    Sponsors eligible to offer a non-congregate meal service are allowed to provide up to 7 days' worth of meals during a singular meal distribution. FNP has the authority to determine whether a sponsor's proposed multiple meal distribution meets the safety, service, and integrity standards of the Program.

    To ensure the integrity of the SFSP and food safety practices are met, MA DESE will not allow the distribution of "bulk" food items to be provided to participants. This means that all meals provided for multiple days of meal service must be unitized and ready-to-eat (individually prepared, frozen meals may be provided). Distribution of bulk items, such as a box of cereal, loaf of bread, etc. are not permitted and will not be eligible for reimbursement.

  6. How many meals per child may be provided through non-congregate meal service?

    The maximum number of meals that may be offered at a non-congregate site and a congregate site is the same. Up to two meals, or one meal and one snack, per child, per day may be offered, in any combination except lunch and supper.

  7. Do the meal service time requirements in SFSP apply to non-congregate meal service?

    Meal service times still need to be established for each site, included in the sponsor's application, and approved by FNP. These requirements may be met through FNP-approved pick-up schedules or delivery plans with designated times for distribution. FNP must approve any changes in meal service times. Sponsors approved for non-congregate meal service are not required to serve breakfast in the morning or allow one hour between the end of one meal service and the start of the next.

  8. Can meals be distributed to parents/guardians at non-congregate pickup locations?

    Yes. Sponsors that have been approved to operate non-congregate meal service in designated rural areas may distribute meals to parents or guardians to take home to their children. Sponsors opting to distribute meals to parents or guardians must maintain accountability and program integrity. This includes processes to ensure that meals are only distributed to parents or guardians of eligible children, and that duplicate meals are not distributed to any child.

  9. Are camps or closed enrolled sites eligible to offer a non-congregate meal service?

    No. Camps and closed enrolled sites may not offer non-congregate meal service if congregate meal service is available and must provide a regularly scheduled food service as part of an organized program for enrolled children; such programming is generally understood to be congregate in nature.

  10. Can a site provide a combination of non-congregate and congregate meal services?

    Yes. Non-congregate meal service may be provided when congregate meal service is not available.

    • A site that only offers breakfast through a congregate meal service may be approved to provide a lunch through non-congregate meal service.
    • A congregate site that serves lunch and breakfast three days a week may be approved to provide non-congregate meals for days with no congregate service, including weekends.

  11. What models of non-congregate meal service are allowed?

    Home delivery and grab and go options may be used for summer 2023. FNP must ensure that sponsors are able to maintain accountability and program integrity.

    Home Delivery non-congregate meal service model is designed to deliver meals directly to homes. Grab and go non-congregate meal service model is designed to provide unitized meals that are taken home for children to eat later and is available to all children when the pick-up site is in a designated rural area. Meals must be packaged and portioned to allow children to carry the food from the SFSP site to their home.

    Food safety is important for all meal service models. Sponsors should ensure food selections and packaging promote food safety; sponsors should also include instructions on at-home storage and preparation. As with congregate SFSP meal service, sponsors must ensure non-congregate meal packages meet State and local health and safety requirements.

  12. What are the requirements for initiating home meal delivery for a household?

    Sponsors eligible to home deliver meals must be able to identify and invite households of eligible children to participate in the meal delivery service, and obtain written consent from the eligible child's parent or guardian that the household wants to receive delivered meals.

    Written consent could include hard copy, email, or other electronic means of communication. In addition, sponsors must confirm the household's current contact information and the number of eligible children in the household to ensure the correct number of meals are delivered to the correct location. Sponsors must protect the confidentiality of participants and their households throughout the process in accordance with confidentiality and disclosure provisions in the National School Lunch Act and SFSP regulations (7 CFR 225.15(f)–(l)).

    Prior to operation, Sponsors seeking to do home delivery must complete a Home Delivered Meals Plan, available in the Document and Reference Library and have it approved by their DESE consultant.

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Last Updated: April 25, 2023

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