Traditionally, students who qualified for free and reduced lunch are able to receive their meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). These students would have to apply by filling out financial forms proving their eligibility for the program. Although this program has been effective at delivering more than 29.7 million meals to children (according to the USDA’s 2018 statistic), there are many more eligible children who qualify for the program but do not apply. However, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 introduced the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The CEP bypasses any financial forms needed and allows all the students attending the school to receive free meals. The CEP is effective because it targets low-income or high poverty rate areas. The families of the children do not need to submit any applications to receive free and reduced-price meals. Rather, the school will check the student’s eligibility based on whether the student’s family is enrolled in any other government assistance programs. These programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Medicaid. Some immediate benefits schools participating in the CEP program see are less administrative paperwork, reduced burdens on high-poverty communities, and increased participation in school meal programs. Students, parents, and schools all benefit from CEP. For students, they are able to enjoy free and healthy meals at school. Additionally, CEP eliminates any stigmas surrounding students who receive free meals at school because all students will be receiving free meals. Parents no longer need to fill out any financial applications and do not need to worry about putting money into their student’s meal accounts to pay for meals. Schools have less paperwork to do and meal services become more streamlined and flexible as a result. Additionally, schools receive more reimbursement for meals under CEP than they do under traditional school meal programs.
Schools that have an identified student percentage (ISP) of at least 40% of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch in order to be eligible for CEP. ISP is calculated by taking the number of identified students and dividing it by the total number of enrolled students at a school and multiplying the number by 100%. Identified students are low income children who are certified without a household application for free meals. Schools must also participate in the NSLP and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) in order to be eligible. Schools that have an ISP of less than 40% can still participate in CEP by grouping themselves with schools that have a higher ISP rate. This way, more students are able to participate and receive CEP benefits. Maryland’s CEP data and requirements are located here. Families in CEP schools in Maryland had lower rates of food insecurity than families at schools that were eligible for, but did not participate in CEP. CEP is a great alternative for schools in the Baltimore area to feed more hungry children. At the Baltimore Hunger Project, our aim is to eradicate child hunger. We can only do this by making it easier to secure meals for children who need them the most. In the classroom, children should be focused on learning, not about where their next meal is coming from. With the support of governmental initiatives such as CEP and NSLP, making it easier for students to receive their meals is the first step towards solving the problem.
The deadline for schools to apply for CEP this coming school year is August 31, 2020.