In Mississippi, where more than 1 in 4 of all children live in a household that receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits, a major deadline is on the horizon for school districts across the state in the fight against childhood hunger. School districts can opt-in to the Community Eligibility Provision by June 30, 2014, which provides free, healthy meals to schoolchildren in high-poverty schools.
Enacted as part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, community eligibility allows schools in low-income communities to offer nutritious meals to all students at no charge. Community eligibility reduces the district’s paperwork and school administrative costs, and streamlines its school meal service. In Mississippi, approximately 507 schools are eligible to provide meals at no charge to all students for the next school year, while 53 school districts can offer community eligibility district-wide.
A school district can implement community eligibility in any school or group of schools with 40 percent or more “Identified Students.” Identified Students are those approved to receive free school meals without an application because they were eligible for other need-based programs such as SNAP. Further, community eligibility allows schools to receive federal reimbursements comparable to those they would ordinarily receive, but it reduces their administrative costs by eliminating the tasks of tracking student income and collecting meal fees. Administrative savings and economies of scale help cover the cost of the meals served to those few children not considered low-income.
Since 2010, 4,000 high-poverty schools in 11 states have adopted community eligibility and made tangible progress toward ending child hunger. In Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan – the first states to enroll in community eligibility – lunch participation rose by 13 percent, meaning that more than 23,000 additional children were fed, and breakfast participation increased 25 percent.
One way to provide the support necessary to build and feed a thriving economy where everyone benefits, particularly children, is to ensure that those in need have food on the table. As such, community eligibility is a simple way to help Mississippi’s most vulnerable students succeed and have access to a brighter future.
For more information, read the full report from the Food Research and Action Center and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2014, May 30). More Than 28,000 Schools Can Become Hunger Free. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4144
-Jessica Shappley, Policy Analyst