Help Create Hunger-free Schools with Community Eligibility
The start of this school year marks the first time that schools in every state will be able to offer the Community Eligibility Provision, a new program that aims to give all students in high poverty schools access to the proper nutrition to learn and thrive. Community eligibility allows schools with high concentrations of low-income children to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students while eliminating common barriers to participation including paperwork and stigma. School districts that have implemented community eligibility as part of the initial phase-in (it was rolled out in a handful of states each year over the past three school years) represent some of the most vulnerable communities across the country, including urban districts like Boston, Chicago, and Detroit, as well as rural areas of Kentucky and West Virginia.
It’s a remarkable opportunity that schools in every state can – and should – take advantage of. And there’s still time for schools to get on board. States have published lists of eligible schools and districts and school districts have until August 31 to opt into the program for this school year.
Most importantly, it’s a program that is already working in more than 4,000 schools across the country. A recent report by FRAC and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Community Eligibility: Making High-Poverty Schools Hunger Free,” found that schools in Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan (three states that participated in community eligibility for two years) saw lunch participation rise by 13 percent and breakfast participation increase by 25 percent.
There are three easy ways advocates can help spread the word about community eligibility and encourage eligible school districts to consider this opportunity:
- Urge schools to participate. Check out the USDA Community Eligibility Provision map for lists of eligible schools to see if schools in your state or local community are eligible and write a letter to key decision-makers urging support for the program. Use this sample letter to express support to the Superintendent to opt into community eligibility.
- Promote community eligibility. Advocates can publish letters to the editor and op-eds in local papers (see our sample op-ed), conduct outreach to press outlets to pitch stories to local reporters, and speak about the importance of adopting community eligibility at local forums and coalition meetings.
- Use social media to help spread the word and build excitement. Using the hashtags #schoomeals and #communityeligibility, tweet and Facebook about districts in your state who have chosen to take up the provision, communicate the benefits of the program, and amplify any local media coverage on community eligibility.
Community eligibility eliminates the school meal application process which can be burdensome for families and schools, and reduces administrative work for school nutrition staff so they can focus on feeding children. Instead of household applications, the reimbursements schools receive for meals served are determined by a formula based on the number of “Identified Students”—children in households participating in other government assistance programs, primarily SNAP and TANF. Any school with 40 percent or more Identified Students can participate and school districts can choose to implement community eligibility in individual schools, groups of certain schools, or district-wide.
As families continue to struggle against diminishing wages and government supports they rely on programs like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs more and more to help stretch limited budgets. By making school meals free for all students through the Community Eligibility Provision, schools support healthier students, better learning outcomes, and the elimination of childhood hunger.
Charts Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Food Research and Action Center, “Community Eligibility: Making High-Poverty Schools Hunger Free,” October 1, 2013.