June 26, 2024

Schools have until Sunday, June 30, to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision for the 20242025 school year. The Community Eligibility Provision, commonly referred to as CEP, allows high-need schools to offer school breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. Starting next school year, any school, group of schools, or school district with an Identified Student Percentage above 25 percent the percentage of students eligible for free school meals without a household application is eligible to participate in CEP. Visit the Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) Community Eligibility Map to see which schools are eligible for CEP in your state.   

Five Reasons to Adopt Community Eligibility 

  1. Community eligibility improves children’s health: School meals are some of the healthiest meals that children receive throughout their day. Over the last decade, researchers have associated community eligibility participation with decreases in household food insecurity and improvements in student health. The health benefits will only grow as schools continue to improve the nutritional quality of school meals.  
  2. Community eligibility increases school meals participation: When all children, regardless of household income, have access to healthy school meals at no charge, stigma decreases, and participation increases. According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, schools experience a 12.1 percent increase in school breakfast and a 6.8 percent increase in school lunch upon implementing CEP. Increasing participation allows more children to experience the educational and health benefits of school meals.  
  3. Community eligibility eliminates school meal debt: Ever since the end of pandemic-era waivers that allowed all schools to offer all students school meals at no cost, schools report struggling with increased school meal debt. Since all students in CEP schools have access to school meals at no charge, CEP eliminates school meal debt and the burdens associated with unpaid charges.
  4. Community eligibility supports innovative breakfast models: When schools do not have to collect fees or count each meal by fee category, it simplifies school meals administration, including for breakfast after the bell service models, thus further driving participation. 
  5. Community eligibility streamlines food service operations: School districts that implement CEP no longer collect, process, and verify school meal applications, thus freeing staff time to allow school nutrition departments to focus on meal quality, school wellness, and student engagement. 


The Community Eligibility Provision is a critical step toward Healthy School Meals for All; however, many eligible schools will be unable to participate until Congress increases the federal reimbursement CEP schools receive. Under the current reimbursement structure, a schools federal reimbursement rate is calculated by multiplying their ISP by 1.6. For example, a school at 40 percent eligibility would only be reimbursed at the free rate for 64% of their meals. Schools at lower eligibility levels (e.g., less than 50 percent ISP) struggle to maintain financial viability when implementing CEP. Increasing the CEP multiplier from 1.6 to 2.5 would make it more financially viable for schools at the lower eligibility levels.  

 Most recently, Sens. Casey (D-PA) and Fetterman (D-PA) introduced the School Hunger Elimination Act of 2024 (S. 4525), which would increase funding to CEP schools along with making a number of other improvements to school meals. Urge your Senator to cosponsor this important bill. For a complete list of Senate and House bills that support and expand CEP and school meals, visit FRAC’s Bills We’re Supporting webpage.