WASHINGTON, October 26, 2022 — The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and 32 national organizations signed a letter urging Congress to quickly expand community eligibility in the upcoming Senate version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. The letter calls on Congress to quickly pass legislation that includes key provisions from the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 8450), which builds upon the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Household budgets are being squeezed, making it difficult for many families to afford the nutrition they need,” said FRAC President Luis Guardia. “Community eligibility is a critical way to ensure that more children can access healthy school meals that are critical to their health and learning.”
Key provisions include:
- ensuring more high-need schools can implement community eligibility by lowering the eligibility threshold from 40 percent identified students to 25 percent;
- raising the federal reimbursement so that it is more financially viable for eligible schools to participate; and
- creating a statewide community eligibility option.
Since its nationwide implementation in the 2014–2015 school year, community eligibility has been a game changer for thousands of schools across the country.
Community eligibility allows high-need schools to offer free meals to all students at no charge. It reduces administrative work for school districts; allows them to focus on providing healthy and appealing meals to students; supports working families who don’t qualify for free school meals; ensures that all students have the nutrition they need to learn and thrive; and eliminates unpaid school meal fees.
Yet, one in four of the eligible high-need schools did not adopt community eligibility primarily because it was not a financially viable option for them. Increasing the multiplier to 2.5 will overcome this barrier. Similarly, creating statewide community eligibility will support the growing number of states that are enacting Healthy School Meals for All legislation.
Studies have shown participation in school meals improves students’ attendance, behavior, and academic achievement, and reduces tardiness. Students who eat breakfast at school perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home, and have improved scores in spelling, reading, and math.
“The Senate must act now and prioritize the well-being of our nation’s children,” said Guardia.
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 and on Facebook.