Cities Can Address Child Hunger and Build Stronger, More Sustainable School Food Service Departments

April 28, 2014

By Jamie Nash

A new USDA opportunity provides schools and communities a simple way to help end child hunger while building a more sustainable school nutrition department budget. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) simplifies the process for schools that predominantly serve low-income children to provide free, nutritious school meals to students through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. When children are able to eat breakfast and lunch during the school day, they are better able to learn and excel in school, and CEP ensures more children in need are able to take advantage of free school meals.

Implemented by the USDA, the CEP removes the burden on families and schools of having to submit paper applications for student enrollment in federal meal programs within high-poverty communities. Schools are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of students participating in additional federal benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Typically, schools that can participate have 75 to 80 percent free and reduced price meal eligibility, as well as a high level of households utilizing SNAP.

Previously available in only 11 states, the CEP will allow every school across the country that meets a high poverty threshold to participate beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. City leaders are in a unique position to support this provision by leveraging their ability to bring together key stakeholders and help spread the word in their communities about the benefits of opting into the CEP.

Benefits of CEP to Cities and Schools
According to the Food Research and Action Center, the CEP has been successful in improving access to free school meals, and as a result the number of students eating meals each day has increased. Community eligibility has also helped changed the way that school food service is implemented -school districts have been able to create economies of scale by increasing meal program participation, bring staff costs down, eliminate debt from unpaid meal fees and cut down on administrative costs associated with printing and processing paper applications.

In Schenectady, New York, the Schenectady City School District has successfully implemented community eligibility district-wide. Both breakfast and lunch are available to all children at no charge, and as a result, schools experienced growth in both their breakfast and lunch programs. The district also attributes the changes in their nutrition programs to substantially improving their attendance rates. Larry Spring, superintendent of Schenectady City Schools, says “CEP has been a great opportunity to level the playing field for all students in Schenectady. It has helped combat food insecurity and also addressed issues such as racial inequality as part of a larger citywide equity agenda, and it could do the same in cities across the country.”

City Leaders:  Take Action Before June 30th Deadline
There is a June 30th, 2014 deadline for school districts to notify their state child nutrition agency that they want to opt into CEP for the 2014-2015 school year. In anticipation of this deadline, here are several actions city leaders can take:   

  • Find out if your School District is eligible: USDA is in the process of publishing a comprehensive list of eligible schools, but in the meantime please visit FRAC’s list of eligible schools and districts and see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ map.
  • Build relationships with key stakeholders: Garner support from the school district superintendent, chief business officer, or a staff member on the operations side that makes the final decision to opt into CEP.
  • Use the bully pulpit to promote the CEP: Generate public discussion in your community around child hunger and the benefits of CEP. For example, city leaders can write an op-ed for their local paper or promote the information on the city’s website or other materials.  A sample op-ed can be found on FRAC’s website.
  • Learn more about CEP and share it with others in the community. Utilize CEP resources from FRAC, and view this  webinar from the School Nutrition Association.

For more information contact Jamie Nash, Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach at nash@nlc.org or 202-626-3160.