Statement Attributable to Luis Guardia, President, Food Research & Action Center
WASHINGTON, September 27, 2023 — The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) applauds the Biden administration for expanding community eligibility, which allows high-need schools to offer free meals to all of their students. The new rule makes about 3,000 more school districts eligible.
The new rule comes at a time when an alarming number of children are experiencing poverty and hunger in America following the loss of pandemic-related investments such as refundable tax credits and free school meals.
During the pandemic, schools were able to offer free meals to all students due to waivers issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and it was a win for everyone — children, families, administrators, and school nutrition staff. When these waivers expired, schools wanted the ability to continue offering free meals to all their students. As a result, the number of schools adopting community eligibility grew to over 40,000 schools in the 2022–2023 school year, serving nearly 20 million children. The final rule moves us even farther down the path to free Healthy School Meals for All.
Under community eligibility, schools no longer have to collect and process school meal applications, which reduces administrative costs and paperwork. Instead, school nutrition departments can invest in operations that further improve students’ access to nutritious and appealing meals, such as implementing innovative breakfast models, procuring local foods, and enhancing culinary techniques. It also eliminates school meal debt.
Newly eligible schools that want to adopt community eligibility this school year are encouraged to work with their state agency to request a waiver from USDA.
The administration’s efforts to expand community eligibility and increase the number of schools offering free meals to all their students will allow more students to experience the education and health benefits linked to school meals participation.
Now, we need Congress to do its part and increase federal funding for community eligibility, as proposed in the School Meal Expansion Act (H.R. 2567). This additional funding is needed to ensure that community eligibility is a financially viable option for all eligible schools and will move us even further down the path to Healthy School Meals for All.
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram.