June 16, 2022
This week, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) released its annual report Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger Free Schools for the 2021-2022 School Year, which analyzes national and state adoption of the Community Eligibility Provisions by school districts and schools. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows high-need schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students on a four-year cycle.
This school year, 90 percent of school nutrition departments chose to run their nutrition operations under the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) waiver, which allows schools to offer meals to all students at no charge and provides a higher reimbursement.
Still, there was a small increase in the total number of school districts and schools adopting community eligibility even if most did not officially operate under the provision. Once adopted, community eligibility allows schools to offer meals to all students on a four-year cycle.
The following are key findings for this year’s report:
- 5,543 school districts have one or more schools adopting community eligibility, an increase of 56 school districts from the 2020–2021 school year;
- 33,300 schools have adopted community eligibility, a decrease of 107 schools from the prior school year;
- 6 percent of eligible schools have adopted community eligibility; and
- 2 million children attend a school that has adopted community eligibility, an increase of over 240 thousand children, or 1.5 percent, from the prior school year.
As a companion to this report, FRAC maintains a community eligibility database of eligible and adopting schools for the 2021-2022 school year.
Community eligibility offers a wide range of benefits for students and schools alike. Offering school meals to all students at no charge increases participation, which
- Helps eliminate the stigma associated with participating in school meals
- Allows more students to experience the educational and health benefits linked to eating school meals, and supports school nutrition finances.
It also reduces the administrative burdens and costs of operating the school nutrition programs and eliminates unpaid school meals fees.
Action Needed: Community Eligibility and Child Nutrition Waivers
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued child nutrition waivers that allow schools across the country the option to serve school meals free of charge to all students regardless of their families’ income level. Without Congressional action, this flexibility is set to expire on June 30, 2022. As school districts look ahead to the 2022–2023 school year, community eligibility offers an important opportunity for high-need schools and school districts to continue providing nutritious school breakfasts and lunches at no charge to all their students if Congress fails to extend the child nutrition waivers.
Congressional action is still needed to support school nutrition operations in the upcoming school year. Congress still has time to extend the child nutrition waivers through the 2022-2023. To support access and school meal operations moving forward, we urge Congress to expand community eligibility in order to increase the number of schools that are able to offer free meals to all of their students through community eligibility, including
- Lowering the eligibility threshold from 40% to 25%, increasing the multiplier that determines the percentage of meals that are reimbursement at the free rate from 1.6 to 2.5,
- Allowing a statewide option for community eligibility.
These community eligibility investments would allow many more schools to offer free meals to all students, increasing the number of students experiencing the educational and health benefits linked to healthy school meals for all. To see the impact in your state, click here.
 To determine the percentage of meals reimbursement at the free rate, the percentage of identified students—those who are certified for free school meals outside of the school meal application process, because they participate in a means-tested program, such as SNAP, or they are homeless, migrant, in foster care, or Head Start—is multiplied by 1.6. An eligible school with an Identified Student Percentage of 40 percent would receive the free reimbursement rate for 64 percent of their meals served. If the multiplier is increased to 2.5, the school would receive the free reimbursement for 100 percent of their meals served.