USDA initiative helps provide healthy meals to low-income children

May 30, 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has announced the nationwide availability of a key provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, aimed at reducing child hunger: the Community Eligibility Provision.

Beginning July 1, eligible school districts in North Carolina will be able to provide free school meals to students in high poverty areas. The Community Eligibility Provision alleviates burden on families in North Carolina by eliminating household applications for school meals programs, while helping eligible districts reduce costs associated with collecting and processing those applications.

“The Community Eligibility Provision provides more eligible children with access to the healthy school meals offered through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast program, while streamlining paperwork for parents and schools,” said FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe.  “We’ve seen this approach succeed in reaching at-risk children in 10 other states and the District of Columbia, and now schools in low-income areas across the country will have a new opportunity to feed their students breakfast and lunch at no charge to families.”

Children in 10.2 percent of North Carolina households are food insecure: they may have to eat lower quality or less variety of foods, or have to skip meals because there is not enough food.  Fifty-four of North Carolina’s school districts are eligible to participate for all schools in their district. This could benefit at least 442 schools in North Carolina and more than 209,116 North Carolina students.  For a list of specific State school-level eligibility information nationwide, visit link.

Schools still incur costs that must be paid from non-Federal funds under this provision. In lieu of collecting individual applications, eligible schools are required to pay the difference between the level of financial resources allowed by the law, and the total cost of operating the program.

School districts that want to implement Community Eligibility in the 2014-15 school year must decide by June 30.  A school qualifies if at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free meals automatically because they participate in another means-tested assistance program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  In school districts with high concentrations of low-income households, the entire district may qualify for Community Eligibility.  Individual schools or groups of schools can also qualify and participation is a local decision.  CEP offers several benefits for schools:

*Allows access to free, nutritious meals for all students also reduces the stigma associated with free and reduced price meals.

*Offers creative meal service models that are easier to implement.  CEP can facilitate the adoption of creative approaches to meal service, such as breakfast in the classroom and “grab and go” kiosks.

*Eliminates student-level meal charges.  This makes meal counting and claiming easier and eliminates the need for schools to collect meal payments from students or to follow up on unpaid meal charges.

“Consuming nutritious meals at school, especially breakfast, can have a profound impact on the educational achievement of children in North Carolina,” said Rowe.  “Adopting the Community Eligibility Provision not only benefits North Carolina schools, but represents an important step in supporting a healthier next generation.”

In the 10 states and the District of Columbia that offered the Community Eligibility Provision as part of the initial rollout, more than 4,000 high-poverty schools participated.  The number of children eating healthy school lunches and breakfasts significantly increased in the schools participating in the provision, and reduced burden and errors associated with processing household applications.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including school meals programs. These programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. Visit www.fns.usda.gov for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.