April 23, 2021

Community eligibility election season is here! Community eligibility allows more than 32,000 high-poverty school districts across the country to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students on a 4-year cycle. Community eligibility

  • reduces administrative work for schools so they can focus on providing healthy meals to help students learn and thrive; 
  • increases school meal participation by eliminating the cost of participation and removing stigma; 
  • maximizes federal reimbursements; 
  • eliminates unpaid school meals fees; and 
  • makes it easier to implement innovative breakfast service models, such as breakfast after the bell.

FRAC is encouraged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extended the summer nutrition waivers, allowing school districts to offer free meals to all students through the end of the 2021–2022 school year. 

But this should not stop schools and districts from electing community eligibility this year. 

COVID-19 has impacted millions across the country, driving increased unemployment and lost wages, and leading to increased participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Due to these increases, community eligibility is a financially viable option for more school districts, and FRAC urges school districts and schools to take full advantage of this opportunity to lock in a higher identified student percentage (ISP) so they can provide free meals to all students for the next four years, beyond the one-year waiver extension. 

Election of community eligibility connects students and their families with other federal programs, including the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which provides nutritional resources to families who have lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to school closures to help fill the school meals gap, and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which provides discounts to low-income consumers for broadband service and connected devices during COVID-19. 

Earlier this spring, USDA extended the community eligibility deadlines for the 2021–2022 school year. Schools and districts have until September 30, 2021 to elect to participate in community eligibility. Below is a summary of the waiver deadlines.


Community Eligibility Requirement Annual Deadline Waiver Deadline
Data used to Calculate ISP April 1 Anytime between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021
LEA Notification April 15 June 30, 2021
State Agency Notification April 15 June 30, 2021
State Agency Publication May 1 June 30, 2021
Elect CEP for 2020–2021 School Year June 30 September 30, 2021


FRAC encourages all state agencies to utilize this waiver to give school districts more time to see if community eligibility is the right option for them for the next four years. 

To make this election season easier for schools and districts, FRAC has a variety of resources listed below and available on FRAC’s CEP webpage.

    • Community Eligibility Grouping Tool and Financial Calculators
      • Grouping Tool —This tool allows school districts and other stakeholders to strategically group schools to maximize the federal funding a school district will receive if they adopt community eligibility.
      • Break Even Calculator — Use your ISP and basic information about your school nutrition operations to calculate the participation needed (in breakfast, lunch, and supper and/or snack programs) to break even.
      • District Level Calculator — Dig deeper to look at expenses and revenue under community eligibility by school type and compare implementing community eligibility to your current operations.
    • Community Eligibility Database for school year 2020–2021

Community eligibility provides an excellent opportunity for high-poverty schools and districts to provide nutritious school meals free of charge to all students for at least four years, and now is the time for your school or district to consider participating.