The Center's work on 'Child Nutrition and WIC' Issues


Schools Can Do Even More to Shield Children From Hunger

September 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

As students begin a new school year, U.S. Department of Agriculture data confirm that too many children — nearly 16 million — live in families that continue to struggle to afford adequate food, known as “food insecurity.”  While many parents in these households can shield their children from hardship, in more than half of them, children themselves were food insecure.  Poor diets and the stress of not knowing when their next meal will be take an enormous and lasting toll on children’s health, development, and readiness to learn.

That’s why the federal nutrition programs that serve children are so important.  Consider the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, well-established programs that have been feeding millions of children for decades, and that keep improving.  These programs reach a striking share of American children.  On a typical day during the past school year, more than 30 million — nearly three in five — students ate a school lunch.  Some 71 percent of those children — more than 21 million — received a free or reduced-price meal.  That means that more than two in five students benefited from free or reduced-price lunches on a typical day last year (see chart).

Despite this extraordinary reach, some children who could benefit from free school meals miss out because their school district doesn’t automatically enroll them as required.  But states and school districts can take steps to ensure that the most vulnerable children receive free meals.

For example, states can improve the processes for automatically enrolling children for free meals when their family receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamp) benefits.  School districts can make sure they are identifying children who are homeless or in foster care so that they begin receiving free meals immediately during a period of family turmoil.  And under a new policy that’s especially important at the start of the school year, schools can begin feeding low-income children as soon as they receive an application, even if they have a processing backlog.

This school year, high-poverty schools across the country also have a new opportunity, under the Community Eligibility Provision, to feed all students at no cost while simplifying their meal programs.  Thousands of schools have already implemented community eligibility and states may continue to accept applications from eligible districts to offer community eligibility for this school year.

For the millions of children in families that struggle to afford nutritious food, being able to count on receiving two healthy meals each school day is a critical support.

Counting Down to August 31 Deadline to Adopt Community Eligibility

August 28, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Schools have a few more days before the August 31 deadline to opt in to the Community Eligibility Provision.  Community eligibility — which allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge without having to process meal applications —is a proven success and an important tool to help children achieve their academic goals.  More than 28,000 schools nationwide are eligible to adopt the provision and become hunger-free.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has encouraged states to continue to accept applications after the deadline and even after the school year begins.  During this transition year, schools can still implement community eligibility even if they have disseminated and collected free and reduced-price meal applications, according to USDA’s July 2014 Guidance.  The sooner they adopt the provision, however, the sooner they will be able to cut back on paperwork, receive reimbursement according to the community eligibility formula — and make meals more readily available to all students.

Community eligibility allows high-poverty schools to ensure that students are ready to learn and receive two nutritious meals every day.  Schools can receive more information on their individual state’s application process by contacting their State Nutrition Director.

What Schools Are Saying About Community Eligibility

August 15, 2014 at 11:14 am

School officials around the country have explained (see here and here) why they’re adopting community eligibility, a powerful new tool to fight hunger in high-poverty neighborhoods by allowing schools to offer nutritious meals to all students at no charge.  As schools and families prepare for the new school year — and as the August 31st signup deadline for eligible schools approaches — here’s more of what school officials are saying about the benefits of community eligibility:

  • Bill Redwine, chair of Rowan County, Kentucky, board of education:

    “This program will have a direct benefit on students in the classroom because teachers know that students who are hungry or have not had breakfast have difficulty concentrating on their schoolwork. . . .  It will also benefit those parents who, in the past, have struggled to provide the money for their child’s meals.  This definitely is a win for our students, for their parents and for our district as a whole.”

  • Jesse Register, director of Metropolitan Nashville, Tennessee, schools:

    “We’re firm believers in educating the whole child and providing them what they need for productive school days.  If a child is hungry, he’s going to have trouble learning.  No child should go hungry and no child should be embarrassed about accepting a meal.  By making it universal, we don’t have to single out any child and we can make family budgets a little less tight.”

  • Margaret Allen, superintendent of Montgomery, Alabama schools:

    “Studies have shown that children who receive proper nutrition perform better in school. . . .   Many of our families live below the poverty line.  Even those that don’t, may skip meals to save money.  This will ensure learning won’t suffer because a student is hungry at school.”

  • Kim Hall, director of child nutrition services, Muskogee, Oklahoma, public schools:

    “Being able to eat a nutritious meal during the day helps the students learn — students that eat during the day are more likely to pay attention because they are not worried about being hungry.”

  • Joey Vaughn, nutrition director, Huntsville, Alabama, city schools:

    “Hopefully, this is going to do away with the stigma [of receiving free school meals] because everybody is going to be able to eat for free.  Nobody’s got to fill out any paperwork; nobody’s got to prove their financial status.”

  • Lisa Stevenson, principal of Neil Armstrong Elementary School, Eldridge, Iowa:

    “Families that don’t have as much money don’t spend the extra money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store because that’s expensive. . . .  This is an opportunity for us to get kids . . . on the right path to trying new and healthy food when they’re at school.”

  • Donna Hargens, superintendent of Jefferson County, Kentucky, public schools:

    “You can’t learn if you’re hungry so we know that providing breakfast and lunch for more of our kids is a really important ingredient and that’s just integral to kids learning.”

Is Your School Eligible to Become Hunger Free?

August 13, 2014 at 3:47 pm

With the August 31 deadline fast approaching for schools to adopt the Community Eligibility Provision for the new school year, we’ve created a searchable database listing each state’s eligible schools.

Community eligibility, which becomes available nationwide this year, enables high-poverty schools and school districts to serve breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.

The database also lists each state’s Identified Student Percentage (ISP), or the share of students who are already approved for free meals without an application because they either have been identified as low income by another program (such as SNAP, formerly food stamps) or are considered at risk of hunger (because they are homeless or in foster care, for example).

School districts, individual schools, or groups of schools can qualify for community eligibility if their ISP is at least 40 percent.  And under community eligibility, schools with higher ISPs receive higher federal reimbursements for the meals they serve.

For more on community eligibility, see this detailed report.

Community Eligibility Poised to Help Millions More Students

August 7, 2014 at 11:11 am

More than 1.8 million students attended schools in 11 states last year that offered community eligibility, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (see chart).  Community eligibility, which allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge without having to process meal applications, is now available nationwide, enabling schools in all 50 states to become hunger free.  Eligible schools have until August 31 to sign up for the coming school year.

More than 28,000 schools nationwide qualify for community eligibility.  School districts across the country have already adopted community eligibility for next year, including those as varied as Dallas, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; and Yakima, Washington.  More districts are signing up every day.

Community eligibility gives school districts serving high-poverty areas a rare opportunity to fight child hunger.  As schools in the states that already have adopted it have learned, community eligibility is a proven tool to help children receive the healthy meals they need to learn and thrive.