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Image: Food Nutrition & Assistance

Child and Adult Care Food Program

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The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides meals and snacks to children at family day care homes, child care centers, homeless shelters, and after-school programs, and to older or functionally impaired adults at adult day care centers. In fiscal 2012, more than 3.4 million children and 118,530 adults received CACFP meals and snacks on an average day. Total cost to USDA for CACFP in fiscal 2012 was $2.8 billion. 

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. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 reformed the welfare system, encouraging more participation by low-income parents in the workforce. It mandated tiered reimbursements for family child care homes participating in the CACFP, with higher reimbursements for homes serving primarily low-income children. The Act also mandated that ERS study the effects of the new tiered meal reimbursements on nationally representative samples of participating family child care homes, their sponsors, and the parents of the children they served.

Tiering reduced the number of family child care homes and sponsors participating in the program but concentrated program benefits more intensely on low-income children. It did not alter the number or nutritional quality of meals offered by participating providers. For more summary results, see the ERS publication, Reimbursement Tiering in the CACFP: Summary Report to Congress on the Family Child Care Homes Legislative Changes Study.

Welfare reform legislation did not change the reimbursement structure for meals and snacks provided by participating child care centers. In centers, meals and snacks are reimbursed at either free, reduced-price, or full rate, depending on children's family income-similar to the reimbursement structure for school meals. The number of children participating in CACFP through child care centers has grown, so that total participation has increased, despite the drop in participation of children attending family day care homes, as shown, in this chart.

Chart data

16x16 - Excel Download chart data in Excel format

As part of the changes required by Congressional reauthorization of the program in 2010, CACFP will be 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 Suppers). In addition, reauthorizating legislation requires USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to develop new nutrition standards for CACFP meals and snacks that better reflect current Federal dietary guidance.

Last updated: Friday, July 26, 2013

For more information contact: Joanne Guthrie