Three States Expand Access to Free School Meals

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee have been selected by the US Department of Agriculture to participate in the initial year of an innovative universal free meal-service option that makes it easier for low-income children to receive meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The Community Eligibility Option will allow schools in high-poverty areas to eliminate applications and provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

Under the option, schools use pre-existing data to determine the amount of reimbursement they can claim from the USDA. The determination is based primarily on the percentage of households in that community that are already participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Community Eligibility Option is one of the early reforms enacted as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2010. The act requires the Community Eligibility Option to be phased in during three years. The USDA identified 10 states as being eligible to apply for consideration in the first year of the option. The USDA selected the three states based on information each state submitted.

“Community eligibility is a great way for schools to cut through burdensome red tape for themselves and low-income families so that children in high-poverty areas have access to the nutrition they need to learn and thrive,” Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said in a press release. “Schools should benefit from reduced paperwork, parents will not have to fill out duplicative forms and children in need will get better access to healthy school meals.