USDA has announced that ten states have been selected as finalists to participate in a pilot program for a universal free meal service option designed to make 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 provide free breakfasts and lunch to all students, using preexisting data to determine the eligibility of students to receive free nutrition assistance.
The determination is based on the percentage of households in that community who are already participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (Food Stamp) Program. By streamlining the eligibility and enrollment process, no additional application is required to provide much need nutrition assistance to children in need.
The Community Eligibility Option is among the early reforms enacted as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. It authorizes USDA to select up to three states to test the option in School Year 2011-12.
The option will be offered to more states in successive years, and will be available to all states beginning School Year 2014-15. To select states that are finalists, USDA set criteria based on the prevalence of high-poverty areas and strong Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program performance, and offered states that met these criteria the opportunity to compete for the Community Eligibility Option.
The states chosen to apply for the initial year are Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia. From these ten, three will be selected to participate in the pilot program.