Community Eligibility Option

During the 2014-15 School Year, the Community Eligibility Provision will go nationwide. This development comes after 11 states, including Massachusetts,  have piloted the program over the past 1-3 years. And even in Massachusetts the program is set to expand greatly over the next few years.

 

What is CEP?

CEP allows individual schools or whole districts to provide free meals to all students as long as a 40% of enrollment is "identified", meaning directly certified for free school meals without need of an application. Directly certified students are those enrolled in one of a subset of federal anti-poverty programs including SNAP, TANF, or Food Distribution on Indian Reservations. Students with homeless, foster, or migrant status are also directly certified. If you're interested in more information The Food Resource and Action Center (FRAC) has a great snapshot of the program here and the USDA has an in-depth battery of resources on their site.

 

What are the benefits of CEP? (Adapted from Share Our Strength's Four Things to Know About Community Eligibility)

  1. Less administrative burden. Especially in high-poverty districts, processing school meal applications can be extremely time-consuming. CEP circumvents the hassle of registering students and frees up staff to work on other projects.
  2. Free meals to kids who need them. With a traditional application system, high-need kids may fall through the cracks because of language barriers, lost applications, or any number of other reasons. CEP, on the other hand, covers all the bases. It even extends the benefit to kids who would normally fall slightly above the income range for free or reduced-price meals, but whose families nonetheless struggle to put nutritious food on the table.
  3. Reduced stigma for those receiving meals. Stigma is a strong deterrent to many families and kids that could benefit from the financial and nutritional boost a free school lunch provides. Making all students eligible eliminates one extra barrier to participation.
  4. Increase breakfast participation. CEP facilitates alternative breakfast models that have been proven to increase the number of students eating the day's most important meal. More kids eating breakfast also brings larger reimbursement into the school district.

 

How do I switch to CEP in my district?

Interested districts should contact their state agency (in Massachusetts, that's the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) to learn how to get started. In the meantime, FRAC has some great tools to help you educate your district about the possibilities that CEP opens up. Check out a template letter for use with superintendents, a testimonial for a school board presentation, and another power point for use at a wellness committee or PTA meeting. Also, pay attention to the @FRACtweets, @madeleinelevin, and @centeronbudget twitter accounts for more tools and infographics. CEP is a great chance to feed every hungry child in your district so don't miss out.