Summer Food Service Program
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides free meals to children in low-income areas through eligible organizations, primarily in the summer months when most schools are closed for instruction. In fiscal year (FY) 2019 (before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic), the program served a total of 142 million meals at a cost of about $475 million. In July of 2019, the month when SFSP operations typically peak, the program provided meals to 2.7 million children each day across more than 47,000 sites.
USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers SFSP sites. SFSP sites include: schools, camps, parks, playgrounds, housing projects, community centers, churches, and other public sites where children gather in the summer. Typically, sites are eligible to offer free USDA-funded meals and snacks if:
- The sites operate in areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the Federal poverty line; or
- Half or more of the children served by the site meet this income criterion (see FNS's Summer Food Service Program).
The onset of the pandemic in the second half of FY 2020 disrupted the provision of meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) by forcing schools to limit their operations. In response to these disruptions and to meet rising food needs during the pandemic, USDA waived restrictions on the location of SFSP sites and when they could operate, making the SFSP one of the largest child nutrition programs during the pandemic. Many children also obtained free meals through the NSLP and SBP’s Seamless Summer Option (see FNS's School Meals). These waivers expired in the summer of 2022. To learn more about pandemic-era changes to the SFSP, please see:
- The Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report
- The Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report
- The Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2022 Annual Report
- COVID-19 Working Paper: Filling the Pandemic Meal Gap: Disruptions to Child Nutrition Programs and Expansion of Free Meal Sites in the Early Months of the Pandemic
In July of 2020 and 2021, the program provided meals to 5.7 and 5.1 million children each day, respectively. In total, the program provided 1.3 billion meals at a cost of $4.3 billion in FY 2020 and 3.1 billion meals at a cost of $10.7 billion in FY 2021, the first full year of the pandemic. Program participation, meals served, and expenditures fell to pre-pandemic levels in FY 2022. In July 2022, the program provided meals to 2.7 million children each day and, in that fiscal year, served nearly 151 million meals at a cost of about $688 million.
All figures are based on data available as of January 2023 and are subject to revision.
For information on updates to the program during the COVID-19 pandemic, see FNS Responds to COVID-19.
Additional studies and information about program eligibility requirements, benefits, and application processes are available from the Food and Nutrition Service Child Nutrition Programs web page.
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