Community Eligibility Provision
Community eligibility provision (CEP) is a new, innovative program that makes it easier for high need schools to serve free meals - both breakfast and lunch - to all students by removing the need for schools to collect paper applications. Because implementing community eligibility means schools are serving universal free school breakfast, it is a great way to facilitate the adoption of innovative breakfast models, such as Breakfast in the Classroom. Community eligibility is now a nationwide program available for the 2014-15 school year. School districts have until August 31st to decide to participate and USDA encourages states to accept elections after this date. Schools and nutrition advocates should work together to plan how they will implement this provision.
Benefits of Community Eligibility
Community eligibility has a number of benefits to students and schools. It helps schools reduce administrative costs related to collecting and processing applications and tracking students based on meal eligibility status. Participating schools no longer have to collect payments during the meal service. It also helps students because families no longer have to complete meal applications and it can reduce stigma because all students are eating meals at no cost, regardless of their income status.
According to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Food Research and Action Center, the first three community eligibility pilot states, Illinois, Michigan, and Kentucky, have already seen success. Schools participating in CEP in these three states saw an increase in lunch participation of 13 percent and an increase in breakfast participation of 25 percent.
- Spread the word - community eligibility is still a new program and many key decision makers may be unaware of the program and its benefits. Write a blog or op-ed, send a letter to the editor, use social media, encourage your Governor or state agency officials to publicize CEP
- Identify eligible schools - state are required to post lists of eligible schools and districts on their websites. Check out this map, click on your state, and examine the list of eligible schools or use this searchable database to find eligible schools in your state. This link provides a chart with totals of schools and districts that are eligible in your state.
- Understand the financial impact - Implementing community eligibility means changing the payment and reimbursement system in a school. The No Kid Hungry School Calculator can help schools walk through the financial impact of this decision.
- Encourage eligible schools to participate - August 31st is the deadline for schools to participate for the 2014-15 school year. Work with relevant decision makers - administrators, school board members, school food service staff, and others - all may need to be involved.
Where can I find which schools are eligible?
States were required to post a list of eligible and near-eligible schools by May 1st. Check out this map and click on your state to see the list of schools. If your state has not published the list yet, contact your state agency.
More Information and Resources
Share Our Strength
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities/Food Research and Action Center
- Community Eligibility: Making High-Poverty Schools Hunger Free
- Improving Direct Certification Will Help More Low-Income Children Receive School Meals
US Department of Education
- Letter on Community Eligibility and Title I - This letter provides guidance on how schools can implement community eligibility while also implementing Title I requirements.
- Title I Guidance - This guidance is helpful for states, districts, and schools on understanding how to implement CEP for Title I schools.
US Department of Agriculture
Michigan Department of Education
- Community Eligibility Monthly Federal Reimbursement Calculator (.xls)
- Frequently Asked Questions on Community Eligibility
- Sample Letter to Households (.doc)
Illinois State Board of Education
Background on Community Eligibility
Congress established community eligibility with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. USDA is phasing in implementation over three years, beginning in July 2011, with the program becoming a nationwide option for the 2014-15 school year. Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan were the first three states to participate in July 2011 and New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia began implementation in July 2012. USDA added Maryland, Florida, Georgia, and Massachusetts for the 2013-14 school year.
How does Community Eligibility work?
Community eligibility enables schools to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students and eliminates the need for schools to collect paper applications by basing reimbursement levels on “identified students”. Identified students are either:
- Directly certified based on their household’s participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, or cash assistance), or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
- Considered homeless, migrant, runaway, Head Start, or foster children.
Schools can be considered individually, as a group of schools within a district, or as a whole district. If they have 40 percent or more identified students in the previous year, it is eligible for community eligibility. Schools determine the reimbursement rates they can claim by multiplying the identified student percentage by 1.6. The resulting number, capped at 100%, is the percentage of total meals reimbursed at the “free” rate. The remainder are reimbursed at the “paid” rate.
For example, if Banneker Elementary School has 100 students and 50 are considered “identified students”, the identified student percentage is 50%. The school would then multiply 50 x 1.6 to yield a free reimbursement rate of 80 percent and a paid reimbursement rate of 20 percent. If Banneker Elementary served 1000 breakfasts in a month, 800 would be claimed for free reimbursement while 200 would be claimed for paid reimbursement.
If a school has 62.5% identified students, it reaches the threshold at which all meals can be claimed for free reimbursement, because 62.5 x 1.6 = 100.
The identified student percentage remains valid for up to four years, but schools can adjust upwards if they have reason to believe that the identified student percentage has increased. However, the rate cannot go down if the identified student percentage declines. Maximizing direct certification is key to ensuring that schools are taking the fullest advantage of CEP.