Unpaid Meals

New Unpaid Meal Charges Resources on USDA Website
FNS has released several new unpaid meal charges resources for SFAs. These resources, now available on the USDA Unpaid Meal Charges Website, include:

  • Local Charge Policy Training Template: An adaptable presentation SFAs can use to develop a training for school and district staff members responsible for enforcing the local charge policy.           
  • Unpaid Meals Fact Sheets: Three fact sheets providing an overview of unpaid meal charges and strategies SFAs can use to prevent “school lunch shaming.”
  • Unpaid Meal Charges Talking Points: Sample talking points school officials can use as a starting point to address questions about unpaid meal charges.
  • Excess Balance Donation Letter: An adaptable letter and donation form that SFAs can use to encourage families to donate any balances remaining in their account at the end of the school year.

An Act to Prevent Food Shaming in Maine's Public Schools (P.L. 2019, ch. 54)  (pdf)

Frequently Asked Questions (doc)

Best Practices for School Districts to Reduce Potential Unpaid Meal Charges

  • Encourage households who qualify for meal benefits to apply by:
    • Making the Free and Reduced Price Meal Application available to families throughout the school year in various forms (paper and online)
    • Provide a mechanism to ensure confidentiality of the meal application such as attaching an envelope addressed to the school nutrition office and offering an online application process
    • Informing households that they can apply or re-apply for meal benefits anytime throughout the school year, especially if their circumstances have changed (household size increases, income decreases)
    • Provide assistance to families who may struggle to complete the application independently
    • Provide opportunities to complete the meal application at school events such as open house and parent-teacher conferences.
  • Clearly communicate the school nutrition Meal Charging Policy/Procedure throughout the school year:
    • On the district website,
    • With “back to school” packets,
    • In student handbooks,
    • in school newsletters.
  • Districts investigate online payment systems as an option for families to submit meal payments
  • Food service department keeps District administration current on outstanding meal account balances
  • District administration notifies families of past due balances after attempts by the food service department are unsuccessful
  • District seeks out financial support from non-federal sources such as community groups, parent-teacher organizations, local credit union, etc. Please note, a procedure should be in place on how donations are handled
  • Encourage communication between parents and the school’s food service department

Best Practices for School Districts for Collecting Payments for Unpaid Meal Charges

  • Make payment options convenient for families, such as offering online payments.
  • Clearly communicate how families can make payments online, in the mail, and in person.
  • Send balance notices in a variety of ways before balances are in the negative. Reminders may include written letters, phone calls, automated alerts through online payment systems, and with other school payment reminders such as library dues.
  • Offer payment plans to families, especially to those that have a large unpaid balance.
  • Utilize an outside collection service
  • Utilize small claims court

More information can be found on the USDA's Unpaid Meal Charges webpage, https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/unpaid-meal-charges