USDA proposes new rule to expand CEP access

The proposed rule would lower the percentage of low-income students required for schools and districts to participate in the program, which enables serving free meals to all students.
Students eating lunch at school
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed a new rule that would expand Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) access across the country.

Under the proposed rule, the threshold of low-income students required for schools and districts to participate in the program would lower to 25% from 40%. 

Authorized by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, 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. 

“Many schools and even some entire states have successfully provided free meals to all their students,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. “We applaud their leadership in nourishing children and hope this proposed change will make it possible for more schools and states to follow suit.”

The USDA will now hold a comment period for members of the public to share their thoughts on the proposal. 

Growing CEP access has also gotten a push from the White House, as President Biden's latest budget included $15 million to broaden CEP. In addition, the White House has advocated for the expansion of universal free meals at school and hopes to provide free school meals to 9 million more students by 2032 as part of its National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.



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