CACFP Administrative Manual Section 3.1

Section 3: Centers Reimbursement Determination

Section 3.1 Child Care Centers Reimbursement Determination—does not apply to At-risk Afterschool Centers and Emergency Shelters

Eligibility documentation allows centers to determine how many of the enrolled participants are eligible for free, reduced-price, or base meal reimbursement. The number of participants by eligibility category (free, reduced-price, and base), in conjunction with the number of claimed meals, serve as the basis for the monthly claim for reimbursement.

Child Care (CC) centers must maintain a current, complete, and certified Meal Benefit Form (MBF) for each child participant claimed in the free or reduced-price eligibility category. When distributing MBFs to families, CC center staff must also distribute the Letter to Households/Parents to inform the parent or legal guardian of the procedures regarding eligibility for free and reduced-price meals. These forms can be found in the Download Forms section of the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS).

A CC center may determine a participant to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals according to one of three methods: automatic eligibility, categorical eligibility, or income eligibility.

Automatic Eligibility for Free Reimbursement

There are four exceptions to the MBF process: (1) foster children; (2) homeless children; (3) children enrolled in Early Head Start (EHS), Head Start (HS), or Even Start (ES); and (4) migrant children.

Foster Children

A CC center is not required to have an MBF for a foster child, as long as the center has a document from the appropriate agency verifying the status of the child as a foster child whose care and placement are the responsibility of the state; or that the foster child has been placed with a caretaker household by a court. If such a document is not available, the CC center must have the foster child’s household complete an MBF that includes the foster child. In this case, the foster child is still eligible for free meal reimbursement.

Homeless Children

Children who are homeless have been identified by a homeless liaison or by an official of a homeless shelter as lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Acceptable documentation for these participants includes a certification signed and dated by a homeless liaison or shelter director containing the child’s name, effective date of participation, and residence (i.e., shelter).

Children Enrolled in Early Head Start, Head Start, or Even Start

Children who are enrolled in EHS, HS, or ES centers are automatically eligible in the free eligibility category. MBFs are not required for these children. Acceptable documentation for these children includes:

  • an approved EHS, HS, or ES application;
  • a statement of EHS, HS, or ES enrollment; or
  • a list of participants from an EHS, HS, or ES official.

Some centers have participants who are enrolled in EHS, HS, or an ES program during part of the day and then participate in a State Preschool or regular CC program during the other part of the day. This is known as a wraparound program. In such wraparound programs, the center must ensure that it has either of the following for children enrolled in the preschool/CC portion of the day and claimed at the free or reduced-price rate:

  • a valid, signed MBF; or
  • documentation of automatic eligibility (i.e., HS roster)
Migrant Children

Children who are documented as migrant by the appropriate migrant education officials are automatically eligible in the free eligibility category. MBFs are not required.  Acceptable documentation for these children includes a certification of migrant status that is signed and dated by the local operating agency’s or school district’s Migrant Education Program coordinator.

Categorical Eligibility for Free Reimbursement

A child is categorically eligible for free meal benefits if they are a member of a household that receives:

  • CalFresh benefits
  • California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) payments
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) benefits

A ”household” is defined as a group of related or unrelated individuals who reside together and function as one economic unit, sharing living expenses. The MBF for a categorically eligible child must contain the following information:

  • The name of the child
  • A case number for CalFresh, CalWORKs, or FDPIR
  • The signature of the parent or guardian

Household income and the last four digits of the parent or legal guardian’s social security number (SSN) are not required. CC Center officials must certify the child as eligible for free meals by signing and dating the MBF. If any of the required information is missing from the MBF, or if the family does not return the MBF to the CC center (families are not required to submit an MBF), the CC center must claim the participant at the base rate.

Income Eligibility

A participant is income-eligible for meals reimbursed at the free or reduced-price rate if the individual’s family or household size and income, as stated on the MBF, are within the USDA Income Eligibility Guidelines. The current USDA Income Eligibility Guidelines can be found in the Download Forms section of the CNIPS.

A complete MBF must contain the following household information:

  • The names of all children for whom application is made;
  • The names of all other household members and their frequency (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, annually, etc.) and source of income (such as earnings, wages, welfare, pensions, support payments, unemployment compensation, social security, and other cash income received or withdrawn from any other source including savings, investments, trust accounts, and other resources), if applicable;
  • The last four digits of the SSN of the adult household member completing the MBF, or if applicable, the box “Check here if no SSN” should be checked;
  • The signature of the parent or guardian

The MBF must also contain the CC center’s certification, which consists of the following:

  • Total household income
  • Signature of the eligibility official
  • Certification of eligibility status: free, reduced-price, or base
  • Certification date for eligibility

If any of the required information is missing from the MBF, the center must claim the participant at the base rate.

Participant Eligibility Effective Date, Duration, and Eligibility

Effective Date

For Non-School Food Authorities, the eligibility effective date may either be:

  • the date the parent or guardian signs the MBF; or
  • the date the MBF was certified by an agency official.

If the parent or legal guardian signature date is used, this date must be within the calendar month of certification or the immediately preceding month, otherwise the effective date must be the date of certification. For example, if a parent signs an MBF on February 1 and the agency completes certification on April 1, the effective date must be April 1.

School Food Authorities (SFA) may not use the date the parent signs the MBF as the effective date. Instead, SFAs may use either the parent MBF submission date or the date that the school official certifies the MBF as the effective date.


MBFs are valid until the last day of the calendar month in which they were originally dated one year earlier. For example, an MBF that was certified by an agency official on October 10, 2016, is valid from October 1, 2016, to October 31, 2017. A household is not required to report an increase in income or a decrease in household size, or ineligibility for benefits during the period in which the MBF is valid.

Participants that Decline the Child and Adult Care Food Program

If a parent or legal guardian does not wish their child to participate in the CACFP, it is best practice for the agency to obtain a form signed by the parent or legal guardian declining participation. The Parent/Legal Guardian's Form for Declining Participation in the CACFP can be found in the Download Forms section of the CNIPS. These children must still be included on the eligibility roster, and, if the agency is using the fixed percentage claiming method, the participant must be included in the fixed percentages.

Child Care Center Eligibility Roster

Once a CC center has determined eligibility for all participants, the staff must create a roster that identifies each enrolled child and their eligibility category. Separate rosters are required for:

  • EHS, HS, or ES programs;
  • Infant toddler or preschool age programs (both programs may be under a single roster; however, if your agency has a separate license for these programs [i.e., infants], the licenses must be entered separately on the CNIPS site application); and
  • School-age programs or participants (even if claimed under the same preschool age license; see Section 1.4).

If the CC center submits claims at the site level, then separate rosters are required by site. Additional rosters must follow the guidelines of this subsection.

CC centers using the fixed percentage claiming method must develop a roster each October and for any other months in which the enrollment or eligibility is updated on the claim. Additional situations in which agencies using the fixed percentage claiming method are required to develop a new roster are noted in Section 5.1. CC centers using the actual count claiming method must develop a roster each month. All for-profit agencies, regardless of claiming method, must develop a roster each month they submit a claim.

The eligibility roster must include:

  • the month and year the roster was created;
  • the name and certified eligibility category (free, reduced-price, or base) of each participant—this must include all CACFP enrolled children, even households that did not return an MBF or whose parents or legal guardians have declined participation;
  • the total number of participants in each category; and
  • the total number of participants enrolled at the site.

A sample CC eligibility roster can be found in the Download Forms section of the CNIPS.

References: 7 CFR, sections 226.2, 226.15(e)(2), 226.17(b)(8), 226.19(b)(7)(i), and 226.23(e); MB CNP-02-2017 Eligibility Requirements for Military Families, MB CACFP-01-2015 Guidance on Income Eligibility Determinations and Durations, MB USDA-CNP-05-2010 Extending Categorical Eligibility Q & A, and MB USDA-CNP-03-2009 Extending Categorical Eligibility.

Questions: A list of program specialists that can assist is found on the CACFP Contact List.

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.
Esta institución es un proveedor que ofrece igualdad de oportunidades.

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CDSS Child and Adult Care Food Program
744 P Street, MS 9-13-290
Sacramento, CA 95814