A new federal bill aims to increase access to free school meals by expanding the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).
Under H.R. 2567, the minimum identified student percentage (ISP) required for schools and districts to participate in the program would be lowered to 25%, from 40%, and the multiplier used to calculate federal reimbursements would be raised from 1.6 to 2.5. If passed, the bill would go into effect at the start of July.
CEP allows participating schools and districts to serve meals to all students for free, regardless of their family income. Participating schools and districts also do not need to collect free or reduced-price meal applications. Individual schools, a group of schools or an entire district can participate in CEP.
Currently, to be eligible for CEP, a school, group of schools or district must have a ISP of at least 40%. The ISP is the percentage of the student body that is eligible for free meals at school due to their families’ participation in federal benefits programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Schools calculate their ISP by dividing the number of students who are eligible for free meals through federal benefits programs by the total student enrollment. A multiplier of 1.6 to is also applied to the ISP to account for low-income students who do not participate in such federal programs.
H.R. 2567 is the latest in a string of proposals to increase CEP access. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture release a proposed rule that would also lower the ISP needed to participate in the program from 40% to 25%. In addition, President Biden included over $15 billion in funding in his 2024 budget to increase CEP access.