National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

Congressional Actions, Legislation, Appropriations, National Advisory Committee and More

Last Published: 05/23/2017

By Gordon W. Gunderson 

Congressional Action

The 91st Congress took action to accomplish the recommendations of the President, many of the recommendations of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health, and those of witnesses testifying before the Senate Select Committee. New amendments to the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Acts brought about significant changes particularly concerning the requirement for providing free or reduced-price lunches for needy children.

Free and Reduced-Price Lunches

Previous legislation and regulations issued by the Secretary of Agriculture had required school district boards and schools to develop policies and criteria with respect to eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. The 91st Congress amended Section 9 of the National School Lunch Act to establish uniform national guidelines and criteria in the determination of eligibility, and set a maximum charge of 20 cents for lunches served at a reduced price.

The income poverty guidelines prescribed by the Secretary of Agriculture as of July 1 each year must be used for the ensuing fiscal year. As of July 1, 1970, the Secretary issued the income poverty guidelines for the 1970-71 school year, stating the family size and applicable income level for 48 States, the District of Columbia, and outlying areas. The income level for Hawaii and Alaska were stated separately. Under the first income poverty guidelines, for example, children from a family of four with a family income of $3,720 or less annually would be eligible for free or reduced price lunches at participating schools.

Public Review

Because of the substantial changes brought about by the amendments, and with substantial increases in appropriations and funds available, USDA issued proposed new regulations covering the operation of the program. The proposed revisions of the regulations were first published in the Federal Register on July 17, 1970, giving interested persons 20 days "in which to submit comments, suggestions, or objections regarding the proposed regulations.” 58

This was the first time such procedure had been pursued, giving the State agencies and administrators an opportunity to voice their opinions prior to the issuance of final regulations. Many communications and suggestions were sent in, and a number of changes in the proposed regulations were made. The revised regulations were published in the Federal Register September 4, 1970.

Uniform Criteria

The Secretary imposed upon each State agency special responsibilities for informing schools and service institutions of their obligation to provide free or reduced price lunches and breakfasts to children who are unable to pay the full price. Furthermore, each local school authority (school board in public schools) was required by the regulation to submit to the State agency a policy and criteria which would be followed in determining the eligibility of all children for a free or reduced price lunch. The policy statement had to include, as a minimum:

  • The officials to whom authority would be delegated by the school board to determine such eligibility.

  • Criteria involving income, including welfare payments, family size, and number of children in school, which would be used, respectively, in determining eligibility for free lunches and for reduced price lunches (based upon Income Poverty Guidelines prescribed by the Secretary).

  • Procedure for appealing from the decision of an official together with an assurance that the Board would abide by such procedure.

  • Procedures the board would use in accepting applications for free or reduced price meals, and alternative methods which it intended to use.

  • Description of the system to be used in collecting payments from children which would fully protect the anonymity of those receiving free or reduced price meals.

The board was required, further, to notify parents of the children in attendance of eligibility standards and policy adopted by the board, and to publicly announce such policy and criteria through the information media. The notice to parents had to be accompanied by a copy of the application form to be used. The final deadline for filing a policy and criteria acceptable to the State agency was set as December 30, 1970.

In addition to the policy and criteria statement, schools were required to give assurance to the State agency that the names of children receiving free or reduced price lunches would not be published, posted or announced in any manner to other children, and that such children would not be required, as a condition of receiving such meals, to use a separate lunchroom, go through a separate serving line, enter the lunchroom through a separate entrance, eat lunch at a different time from paying children, work for their meals, use a different medium of exchange in the lunchroom than paying children, or be offered a different meal than the paying children.

Monthly Reports

Participating schools are required to report each month the average number of children who received free lunches and the number who received reduced price lunches during the preceding month. As of October first of each year and again on the first of March, schools must submit to the State educational agency an estimate of the number of children in school who are eligible for free and reduced price lunches. The State agency, in turn, is required to submit the summary of the school reports to USDA.

Section 11 Revised

Section 11 of the National School Lunch Act concerning special assistance to needy schools and children was again revised by providing for appropriations beginning with the 1970-71 fiscal year in such amounts as might be necessary to furnish free or reduced price lunches to children of low-income families. Furthermore, the use of these funds was no longer limited to food purchases.

Planning for Annual Expansion

Another far-reaching provision of the amendment of 1970 to Section 11 of the National School Lunch Act is the requirement that not later than January 1st of each year each State educational agency must submit to USDA a plan of operation which will describe the manner in which the educational agency proposes to use Federal and State funds to furnish a free or reduced price lunch to every needy child in school.

Until such a plan has been submitted and approved by USDA, a State cannot receive either Federal funds or donated foods for use in programs under the School Lunch or Child Nutrition Acts in the next year.

Transfer of Funds Authorized

USDA may authorize transfer of funds by any State between the various programs under the Acts. Such transfers would be supported by a State plan of operation giving details as to the use of the funds.


A giant step forward to enable local school districts to plan their program operations for the future and to provide for the necessary financing of the program within the time prescribed for school budgeting was accomplished through the amendment of Section 3 of the National School Lunch Act. The amendment provides that "Appropriations to carry out the provisions of this Act and of the Child Nutrition Act for any fiscal year are authorized to be made a year in advance of the beginning of the fiscal year in which the funds will become available for disbursement to the States. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any funds appropriated to carry out the provisions of such Acts shall remain available for the purposes of the Act for which appropriated until expended.”  59

Nutrition Education and Research

In the amendment of Section 6 of the National School Lunch Act the Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to use not to exceed one percent of the funds appropriated for the National School Lunch and the Child Nutrition Acts for "training and education for workers, cooperators, and participants in these programs and for necessary surveys and studies of requirements for food service programs in furtherance of the purposes" of the Acts. 60

Special Developmental Projects

In an amendment of Section 10 of the Child Nutrition Act, State educational agencies may use up to one percent of the funds apportioned to them to carry out special developmental projects, subject to approval by USDA.

State Matching Requirement

By the provisions of an amendment to Section 7 of the National School Lunch Act, beginning with the fiscal year 1970-71, State funds appropriated or utilized specifically for program purposes at the school district level would be required to make up a portion of the matching requirement as follows: For fiscal years ending June 30, 1972 and 1973 -4 percent; fiscal years ending June 30, 1974 and 1975 -6 percent; fiscal years ending June 30,1976 and 1977 -8 percent; and for each fiscal year after June 30, 1978, at least 10 percent of the matching requirement would come from State funds. Matching of funds received under Section 11 of the Act was not required.

National Advisory Council

Section 14 was added to the National School Lunch Act. It provides for establishing a National Advisory Council on Child Nutrition composed of 13 members appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to serve without pay, but to be reimbursed for travel and subsistence. The membership is to be composed of: State school lunch director, school administrator, child welfare worker, person engaged in vocational education, nutrition expert, school food service management expert, State superintendent of schools, or equivalent, school board member, classroom teacher, and 4 members of the Department of Agriculture with training, experience and knowledge relating to child food programs.

One of the members is to be designated as chairman of the Council by the Secretary of Agriculture and one was vice chairman. Meetings are to be held upon the call of the chairman, but not less than once a year. Seven members constitute a quorum and the powers of the Council are not to be affected by a vacancy on the Council.

The Council is to carry on a continuing study of school lunch and child nutrition programs and any "related Act under which meals are provided for children, with a view to determining how such programs may be improved. 61  Annual reports and recommendations for administrative and legislative changes are to be submitted by the Council to the President and Congress.

In spite of some criticisms and admitted weaknesses over 25 years of development, the National School Lunch Program has continued to reach out to school children throughout the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Freely Associated States.

In the first year of its legislative life in 1946-47 it assisted in providing food services in 44,537 schools serving 910.9 million Type A and Type B meals to 6 million children.

In the year of its 25th anniversary some 24.5 million children in over 79,000 schools will receive the nutritional benefits of more than 3 billion meals at school.

The program is constructed upon a system of Federal, State, local, and individual cooperation. It can justly boast of a big percentage of hard-working, devoted public servants at all levels of operation. The extent to which it will accomplish its potential in future years will depend upon the extent to which each individual at all levels of government and society meets his responsibilities under a national dedication to eliminate hunger and malnutrition from America for all time.


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58  Reprint from Federal Register of Sept. 4, 1970 (35 F.R 173).
59  PL 91-248, 91st Congress, May 14, 1970, 84 Stat. 207.
60  Ibid.
61  PL 91-248, 91st Congress, May 14, 1970, 84 Stat. 207.