WASHINGTON, May 24, 2023 — The Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger-Free Schools, School Year 2022–2023 report released today found that during the 2022–2023 school year, 40,235 schools adopted the provision, which allows high-need schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.
Community eligibility offered an important way for schools to continue offering free Healthy School Meals to All when the pandemic-related child nutrition waivers ended at the start of the 2022–2023 school year, and the number of schools participating in community eligibility grew by 6,935 schools, or 20.8 percent, from the prior school year.
“We are thrilled to see the dramatic increase in the number of schools adopting community eligibility,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “More children will be able to experience the educational, health, and mental health benefits linked to participating in school meals.” The report reveals that 19.9 million children nationwide attend a school that has adopted community eligibility, an increase of nearly 3.7 million children, or 22.5 percent, from the previous school year.
Thirty-nine states saw increases in community eligibility participation during the 2022–2023 school year, according to the report, which analyzed data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
California had the largest growth in the number of schools adopting community eligibility, increasing by 2,420 schools. Florida and Washington followed in school adoption growth by 1,080 and 731 schools, respectively. Nationally, 82 percent of eligible schools participate in community eligibility.
Created through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, participation in community eligibility has continued to grow since it became available nationwide in the 2014–2015 school year. Any district, group of schools in a district, or school with 40 percent or more “identified students” — children who are eligible for free school meals and already identified by means other than an individual household application — can choose to participate.
Schools that adopt community eligibility experience multiple benefits, including increased participation in school meals, reduced administrative work for schools and families, and elimination of school lunch debt.
“Community eligibility is a pathway to Healthy School Meals for All — and is a win for everyone — administrators, students, families, and school nutrition staff. We urge eligible schools to adopt community eligibility before the next school year and call on Congress to expand community eligibility,” said Guardia.
The report recommends taking three important steps to increase the number of schools adopting community eligibility: lower the eligibility threshold from 40 percent to 25 percent so more high-need schools are eligible; raise the multiplier that determines the federal reimbursement from 1.6 to 2.5 to make it more financially viable; and create a statewide community eligibility option to support states that are enacting Healthy School Meals for All legislation.
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 Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.