Reimbursement Regulations

Two boys eat cereal with milk at desk in classroom

Schools can receive both federal and state reimbursements per breakfast served. Maximizing participation in breakfast programs allows schools to receive higher federal and state reimbursements. Additional revenue generated by an expanded breakfast program can help offset the cost of fixed expenses.

Federal Reimbursement

The USDA provides reimbursement for each complete breakfast served to students based on their eligibility for free, reduced-price, and full price meals. These federal reimbursement rates are adjusted every July for the following school year. Schools that qualify for severe need reimbursement—meaning 40% of the school's lunches served two years prior were free or reduced-price—receive additional reimbursement.  2020-2021 school year rates can be found here

State Mandated Schools

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts offers additional funding for schools that are mandated by the state to run a school breakfast program. A school is mandated to offer school breakfast if it is eligible for federal severe need reimbursement (i.e. for the prior two years, 40% or more of lunches were served to students eligible for free or reduced-price meals) AND at least 50% of students were eligible for free or reduced price meals in October of the prior year. These schools are eligible for up to an additional $0.10 per meal for breakfast costs that exceed federal severe need reimbursement. School nutrition directors must submit documentation of breakfast costs to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) each month to receive this reimbursement. Types of allowable costs include food preparation, food service, cleanup, supervision, extension services, enrichment activities, etc.

In short, a school is mandated by the state to provide school breakfast when it meets these two requirements:

(1) For the previous 2 years, 40% or more of lunches were served to students eligible for free or reduced meal prices (Federal Severe Need Breakfast); AND

(2) At least 50% of students attending the school are eligible for free or reduced meal prices with applications or direct certification on file the previous October.

State Universal Breakfast Program

Universal Breakfast (UB) is a program that enables schools to offer breakfast to all students at no charge, regardless of household income. In Massachusetts, a state-mandated elementary school where at least 60 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals in October of the prior year may apply for UB funds from DESE at the beginning of the school year. All meals must be served as part of the school day. Meals served through the UB program are given an additional reimbursement of approximately $0.15 per meal. This money is provided in addition to the federal severe need and state-mandated reimbursements. UB funds are distributed to schools twice per year. Allowable costs for UB programs are the same as those for state mandated schools.

Direct Certification

Children in households that receive benefits through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), are categorically eligible for free school meals, as are students with homeless, foster, or migrant status. Certain types of MassHealth which collect household income data can also be used to directly certify eligible children.

Direct certification simplifies the process of qualifying children for free meals. Since eligible families do not need to complete a school meal application and schools do not need to process applications for these students, direct certification saves everyone a tremendous amount of time.

Direct certification ensures that all children who are eligible for free meals—based on either their household’s participation in SNAP, TANF, MassHealth, or their homeless, foster, or migrant status—are automatically signed up to receive them. It can also be used to qualify schools to provide free meals to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

Community Eligibility Provision

Some schools may be able to provide school breakfast and lunch to all students under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP allows individual schools or entire districts to provide free meals to all students when 40 percent of enrolled students are directly certified—meaning students enrolled in SNAP, TANF, Food Distribution on Indian Reservations, or homeless, foster, or migrant students. Since CEP allows all students to receive meals without submitting applications, it reduces the administrative burden on schools and ensures that no children fall through the cracks. Additionally, it reduces the stigma around receiving free school meals, since all students are automatically eligible.


Learn More:

Start or Expand a School Breakfast Program 

Breakfast After the Bell Toolkits

Reimbursement Regulations

Federal Nutrition Standards for School Breakfast 

Promote School Breakfast

Massachusetts School Breakfast Challenge

School Meal Applications Overview