Report: Community Eligibility: Making High-Poverty Schools Hunger Free
Educate your state and school district about community eligibility.
- Community Eligibility: An Amazing New Opportunity for Schools (pdf)
- FRAC Facts – Community Eligibility (pdf)
- FRAC Brief – Community Eligibility Helps Low-Income Students and Schools (pdf)
- FRAC/School Nutrition Foundation Webinar – Making Universal Meals a Reality through the Community Eligibility Option
Community eligibility is the newest opportunity for schools with high percentages of low-income children to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. It increases participation by children in the school meal programs, reduces labor costs for schools, and increases federal revenues. In short, it allows for a healthier student body and a healthier school meal budget.
Included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, community eligibility completely eliminates paper applications. Instead, schools are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of “identified students” – those certified without application for free school meals because they are in foster care or Head Start, are homeless, migrant or living in households that receive SNAP/Food Stamps, TANF cash assistance or the Food Distribution on Indian Reservation benefits. Community eligibility has been available in Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan since the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Washington D.C., New York (pdf), Ohio and West Virginia began offering the option to school districts in the 2012-2013 school year. Georgia, Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts have been added for the 2013-2014 school year. Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all schools nationwide that meet the 40 percent identified student threshold will be eligible to participate in this option.
USDA has proposed regulations (pdf) for community eligibility which were published in the Federal Register on November 4, 2013. Comments are due January 3, 2014.
USDA issued a memo (pdf) in 2012 that offers helpful guidance about community eligibility.
Advocates and school districts can work together to learn about this new option. Here are some resources to help you determine the best way to implement community eligibility.
Since this is a new provision, local school officials may not have heard of community eligibility and will have some questions. They will want to know whether their schools are eligible for community eligibility, how they would be reimbursed for school meals, how it would affect the operations of the school food program and other programs that rely on data from school meal applications, and what their obligations would be to students and state administrators. School districts are likely to be especially interested in how operating under community eligibility will affect their share of Title I education funding.
By May 1, 2014, and each subsequent year, school districts are required under federal law to submit to state agencies, and state agencies are required to publish, lists of eligible schools (those with Identified Student Percentages of 40 percent or more) and near-eligible schools (those with Identified Student Percentages below 40 percent but at or above 30 percent). States can establish a process for collecting and compiling data on the percentage of children enrolled at each school who are approved for free meals without an application so they will be ready to publish a statewide list by May 1, 2014. If school districts are not already reporting school-level data, they will need guidance on how to submit the lists of Identified Student Percentage for each school.
School districts considering adopting community eligibility will want to calculate its impact on their federal reimbursements and food service revenue. They will have to decide which schools will participate. For reimbursements, school districts will have to decide whether to use individual school building direct certification percentages or whether they will be clustered and reimbursed based on the group’s direct certification percentage.
School districts that have decided that some or all schools will operate under community eligibility will need to adjust their administrative processes. In particular, the claiming process must be revised so that claims for meals served in community eligibility schools are based on their claiming percentage (directly certified percentage x 1.6) and meal counts. Districts that will be collecting household income information using an alternative form will need to establish new practices for distributing and processing those forms unrelated to the school meals program administration.
Schools implementing community eligibility have an opportunity to publicize it using traditional media and social media. They will also need to inform parents that their children will receive free breakfasts and lunches and that they do not need to complete a school meal application. Districts that choose to collect household income information using an alternative form will need to establish new practices for distributing and processing those forms unrelated to school meal program administration.