Following the end of pandemic-era school meals at no charge in June 2022, school participation in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) increased significantly during SY2022-23, according to the Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) recently released report, Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger-Free Schools, School Year 2022-2023.
Analyzing data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, FRAC reports that 40,235 schools adopted community eligibility during SY2022-23, a nearly 20% increase from the previous school year. As a result, 82% of eligible schools have now adopted CEP, with 19.9 million children attending a participating school—an increase of almost 3.7 million, or 22.5%, from the previous school year.
The increase in community eligibility participation is encouraging, FRAC notes, and the positive impact of CEP participation is clear: Schools and districts that have implemented the Provision see increased meal participation and daily attendance, as well as the elimination of school meal debt and reduced stigma for students from low-income households.
Ultimately, FRAC urges Congress to pass legislation permanently enacting Healthy School Meals for All, allowing all schools and students to see the benefits of hunger-free schools. SNA’s strong support of this legislation was included as a key point in the 2023 SNA Position Paper.
In the meantime, FRAC recommends that states focus on increasing CEP adoption by improving direct certification to ensure that schools’ and districts’ identified student percentages (ISPs) are accurately reported in order to qualify and remain eligible for the Provision.
FRAC and SNA also support legislative measures to allow more schools and districts to qualify for CEP, including the USDA proposed rule to lower the eligibility threshold from 40% to 25% and the proposal to increase the multiplier that determines the level of federal reimbursement for community eligibility schools from 1.6 to 2.5 as part of the “School Meals Expansion Act (H.R. 2567).”