What is the Community Eligibility Provision?
The proposed House FY18 Budget includes a cut to a newer and lesser-known program called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP came out of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and streamlines the process for qualified students to receive free meals while also enabling high poverty schools to serve universal free meals without applications.
Historically, in order to qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, parents would need to fill out a form provided by the schools showing eligibility based on income. For many districts this creates a significant burden of paperwork. Once a student is determined to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals, they then must be charged (or not charged) accordingly.
CEP allows individual schools or groups of schools to provide free meals to all students as long as 40% of enrolled students are directly certified for free school meals. This type of certification does not require an application or any additional paperwork. Students qualify for direct certification if anyone in their household is enrolled in at least one federal anti-poverty program including SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid in some states, including Massachusetts. Students with homeless, foster, or migrant status are also directly certified.
CEP reduces the administration burden for both schools and families by eliminating the application process in high poverty schools. Additionally, CEP reduces stigma since all students are able to receive meals for free. An early report on CEP showed it increased lunch participation by 13% and breakfast participation by 25%. (i)