Proposed Bill Would Limit Schools Eligible for Community Eligibility

A new report from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examines a discussion draft of a child nutrition reauthorization bill that would limit the number of schools able to participate in Community Eligibility. If this proposed bill from the House Education and Workforce Committee becomes a law, 7,022 schools now using community eligibility would have to return to the paper application process and monitoring eligibility in the lunch line everyday.

The Community Eligibility Provision is a provision of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 that allows schools or school districts with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. Under federal law, certain students are automatically enrolled in free meals without having to complete an application because of their participation in programs like SNAP or TANF, as well as students who are homeless, migrant or in foster care. These automatically enrolled students are known as “identified students” for the purpose of community eligibility. To qualify for community eligibility, a school, group of schools or district must have an identified student percentage (ISP) of more than 40%. The reimbursement rate for meals served in school is also affected by the ISP. A school’s ISP is multiplied by 1.6 to estimate the number of students that would be eligible for free or reduced lunch if applications were collected. The resulting percentage is the percent of served meals that are reimbursed at the highest federal rate while the rest are reimbursed at the lowest federal rate. Any school/district with an ISP of 62.5% or higher would receive 100% of meals reimbursed at the highest rate, while schools with an ISP closer to 40% would be responsible for covering the cost of meals reimbursed at the lower rate.

This proposed bill would limit the schools or districts that were eligible to participate in Community Eligibility to those with ISPs over 60% instead of the current threshold of 40%. There are currently 7,022 schools that have adopted community eligibility with ISPs between 40 and 60 percent. More than one-third of the affected schools are located in just five states:  Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. In addition, it is estimated that 11,647 schools with ISPs between 40 and 60 percent that have not yet adopted community eligibility would lose the option to do so.

Community Eligibility has been very popular in the first 2 years of nationwide availability largely because it allows schools to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students while reducing administrative costs and paperwork. Many studies have shown a link between food insecurity, overall health and academic performance. If passed, this bill would impose more administrative burdens on schools and prevent schools in some of the most high poverty areas from providing this valuable resource to their students.