The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it is giving an estimated 3,000 more school districts in high-need areas the option to serve breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost by expanding the availability of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).
“Today’s announcement comes as we approach the one-year anniversary of the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, where the Biden-Harris Administration promised to advance a pathway to healthy school meals for all students,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA has taken an important step toward fulfilling that promise by expanding access to CEP. Increasing access to free, healthy school breakfast and lunch will decrease childhood hunger, improve child health and student readiness, and put our nation on the path to better nutrition and wellness.”
CEP allows schools to provide meals at no cost to all students without requiring families to apply for free and reduced-price meals. Instead, school districts receive federal funding based on a formula using existing data from SNAP and other programs, and local or state funds must fill any gap between program costs and federal support. Before this final rule, at least 40% of students had to live in households participating in certain income-based federal assistance programs in order for a school, group of schools or school district to be eligible for CEP. This final rule lowers that threshold from 40% to 25%.
Eight states—California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont—have passed laws allowing their schools to serve healthy school meals to all their students at no cost. In these states, schools that previously were not eligible for CEP can now take advantage of this final rule.