Child and Adult Care Food Program

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides meals and snacks to children at child care centers, family day care homes, emergency shelters, and after-school programs, and to older or functionally impaired adults at adult day care centers. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, approximately 4.7 million children and about 137,000 adults received CACFP meals and snacks on an average day. Total cost to USDA for CACFP in FY 2019 was $3.7 billion.

In FY 2020, CACFP averaged about 4.2 million child and adult participants daily and total expenditures on the program amounted to $3 billion. These declines are attributable to disruptions in the program’s operations in the second half of FY 2020 due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which forced the closure of many child and adult care providers beginning in March. In response to these disruptions and to meet rising food needs during the pandemic, USDA issued waivers allowing for flexibilities in the implementation of the CACFP. Overall, about 1.6 billion meals were served through the CACFP, 23.4 percent fewer than in FY 2019.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the CACFP and reimburses participating child and adult care providers for the meals and snacks served. Children in a participating child care center from households with incomes:

  • At or below 130 percent of the Federal poverty line can receive a free meal or snack.
  • Between 130 and 185 percent of the Federal poverty line can receive a reduce-price meal or snack.
  • Above 185 of the Federal poverty line can receive a low cost full-price meal or snack.

In day care homes, meals are reimbursed either at tier 1 or tier 2 rates. Tier 1 rates provide higher levels of reimbursement to day care homes in low-income areas or those in which the provider's household income is at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty line. Meals served in day care homes to children eligible for free or reduced-price meals can also be reimbursed at tier 1 rates. Tier 2 rates provide lower levels of reimbursements to day care homes that do not meet the location or provider income criteria for tier 1 rates. Meals and snacks provided through CACFP can be especially important to working parents, playing a role in improving day care quality and making day care more affordable for recipients.

Over the past two decades, fewer children participated in the program through day care homes, dropping from 1 million in FY 2000 to nearly 700,000 in FY 2019. However, the number of children participating in CACFP through child care centers has grown—from 1.7 million children in FY 2000 to approximately 4 million in FY 2019. This growth resulted in an increase in total participation in CACFP, from 2.7 million children in FY 2000 to 4.7 million in FY 2019. In FY 2020, nearly 600 thousand children participated in CACFP through day care homes and about 3.5 million through child care centers.

An ERS report summarized recent research and found evidence that participation in CACFP by child care providers improves food security for households with children enrolled in the centers; participation also improves consumption of milk and vegetables. To learn more, please see:

As part of the changes required by Congressional reauthorization of the program in 2010, CACFP is allowed to provide suppers to children attending after-school programs in high-need areas, where at least 50 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals (see After-School Snacks and Meals). In addition, reauthorizing legislation required USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to develop updated nutrition standards for CACFP meals and snacks that better reflect current Federal dietary guidance. Since 2017, CACFP centers and day care homes are required to meet updated standards, with meals that include a greater variety of vegetables and fruits, more whole grains, and less added sugar and saturated fat.

All figures are based on data available as of January 2021 and are subject to revision.

For the latest information on updates to the program during the COVID-19 pandemic, see FNS Responds to COVID-19.

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