Thursday, May 29, 2014

More Meals for Hungry Kids

Community Eligibility: Fighting Child Hunger and Building Stronger School Meal Programs
By Anne Fyffe

Kaylee, a nine-year-old from Texas, speaks honestly to the importance of free meals at school when she says that "when I go home, we don't have that much food...when I come here, I can eat." Kaylee is just one of nearly 32 million children who rely on free or reduced-price school meals every day at school.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a long tradition of advocacy on behalf of children and is committed to the goal of ending childhood hunger. The PC(USA) recognizes the importance of federal nutrition programs, including school lunch and breakfast programs, as part of the path to achieving this goal (General Assembly Minutes, 1996, p.784).

Community eligibility is a new opportunity for schools in areas that experience high levels of poverty to provide free breakfast and lunch to all of their students. The community eligibility provision (CEP) was previously only available in 11 states, but beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all schools nationwide that meet the 40 percent "identified student" threshold will qualify to participate in this option. You can find a list of eligible schools here. The deadline for school districts to notify their state agency that they want to participate in CEP for the 2014-2015 school year is June 30, 2014.

Take Action: Find out if your schools are eligible here! Click here to write an op-ed to your local newspaper in support of community eligibility. For more links, scroll down.

How Community Eligibility Works
Community eligibility is a win-win for students and schools. Designed to help schools in high-poverty areas, it ensures that all children have access to healthy food at school. Community eligibility removes the families’ and schools’ burden of submitting paper applications to enroll students in school meal programs in high-poverty communities. Instead, schools are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of "identified students" who participate in additional federal benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly the Food Stamp Program) or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, among others. Typically, more than 75 percent of students who go to schools that qualify for community eligibility receive  free or reduced-price meals, so this is a great opportunity to make sure that 100 percent of children are getting the food they need to thrive.

Benefits for Children, Schools, and Communities
Community eligibility has been successful in increasing the number of students eating meals each day and in changing the way that schools provide food service, according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). School districts can increase meal program participation, bring staff costs down, eliminate bad debt from unpaid student meal fees, and cut down on administrative costs associated with printing and processing paper applications.

School food service workers will no longer have to confront, and sometimes take food away from children who have unpaid fees on their accounts and administrators and families will no longer have to bear the burden of submitting paper applications. Most importantly, this program removes the stigma of receiving free meals at school and children will no longer have trouble paying attention in class because they are hungry.

Schenectady City School District, NY is one example of a school district that has successfully implemented community eligibility district-wide, making both breakfast and lunch available to all children at no charge, and as a result, they experienced growth in both their breakfast and lunch programs. They also attribute the changes in their nutrition programs to substantially improving their attendance rates. Larry Spring, superintendent of Schenectady City Schools, sees community eligibility as an opportunity to level the playing field for all students and address issues such as racial inequality and food insecurity as part of a larger city-wide equity agenda.

Take Action!
Here's what you can do now, before the June 30th deadline for school districts to notify their state agency that they want to participate in CEP for the 2014-2015 school year:

  • See if your School District is eligible: Check out the list of eligible schools in your state!
  • Contact your school's Administration: If your school is eligible, contact the administrators in your school district and ask them if they plan to participate in CEP next year.
  • Write an op-ed: Create some public discussion in your community around CEP by clicking here!
  • Learn more about community eligibility: Utilize these CEP resources from FRAC.

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

      Anne Fyffe is a Summer Fellow at the Office of Public Witness. She will graduate from The Ohio State University in August with a degree in Public Affairs and hopes to begin seminary in 2015.