The September 30 community eligibility deadline is fast approaching.1 The Community Eligibility Provision allows high-poverty schools and districts to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students based on the number of students automatically eligible for free school meals. Eligible schools and school districts need to act quickly to lock in Healthy School Meals for All across four school years.
Why Adopt Community Eligibility This School Year?
The Seamless Summer Option Waiver already allows schools to offer school breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge, but the waiver ends at the end of the 2021–2022 school year. Schools can use the waiver this school year and still adopt community eligibility. This allows them to secure a potentially higher federal reimbursement level because some schools’ Identified Student Percentage (ISP)2 is higher this year due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.
In addition, students who attend community eligibility schools are eligible for the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program, which provides nutritional benefits to children when they miss out on free or reduced-price school meals. These benefits are provided for the days that schools close or operate virtually due to the pandemic. Students also will receive P-EBT benefits during the summer of 2022.
What are the Benefits of Community Eligibility?
Community eligibility offers a wide variety of benefits to schools and students. Benefits include increasing school meal participation, decreasing stigma around participation in school meals, allowing more students to experience the educational and health benefits of school meals, automatic eligibility for P-EBT benefits, reducing administrative burdens and costs to schools, and bolstering school nutrition finances.
How Does a School or School District Know if They are Eligible for Community Eligibility?
A school district can implement community eligibility in one school, groups of schools, or districtwide if their ISP is 40 percent or higher. School districts and schools can find out if they are eligible by determining their ISP and by looking at their state’s list of schools that can adopt community eligibility.
Are There any Resources to Help?
FRAC has a variety of community eligibility resources available, which are listed below and are accessible on FRAC’s Community Eligibility webpage:
- State Lists of Schools That Can Adopt Community Eligibility for SY 2021 – 2022;
- Take a Fresh Look at Community Eligibility for the 2021–2022 School Year;
- 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 the scenario of implementing community eligibility to your current operations;
- Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger Free Schools: School Year 2020-2021;
- Community Eligibility Database for school year 2020–2021;
- Making it Work at Lower ISPs; and
School District Strategies for Improving Direct Certification.
What’s the Next Step?
Contact your state child nutrition agency to learn more and to talk with them about adopting community eligibility.
1The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a waiver that allows states to extend the deadline to adopt community eligibility past the normal June 30 deadline. States can set a deadline as late as September 30. Check with your state child nutrition agency to confirm your state’s deadline.
2The Identified Student Percentage refers to the percentage of students within a school who are directly certified for free school meals because their families participate in means-tested programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), or Medicaid, or are migrant, homeless, enrolled in Head Start, or in foster care.