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House Bill Restricting Free School Meals Option Could Increase Food Insecurity in High-Poverty Neighborhoods

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Child Nutrition, Federal, Child Nutrition

House Bill Restricting Free School Meals Option Could Increase Food Insecurity in High-Poverty Neighborhoods

May 06, 2016
By
Jessica Pino

From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

A child nutrition reauthorization bill (H.R. 5003) introduced on April 20 by Rep. Todd Rokita, chair of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, includes a provision that would severely restrict schools’ eligibility for community eligibility, an option within the national school lunch and breakfast programs allowing high-poverty schools to provide meals at no charge to all students. If this bill becomes law, 7,022 schools now using community eligibility to simplify their meal programs and improve access for low-income students could have to reinstate applications and return to monitoring eligibility in the lunch line within two years.  These schools serve nearly 3.4 million students.  Another 11,647, schools that qualify for community eligibility but have not yet adopted it could lose eligibility.

Policymakers enacted community eligibility in 2010 legislation that received widespread bipartisan support.  Eligible schools meet a stringent threshold and are located in some of the nation’s poorest communities, including urban school districts like Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit as well as rural areas of Kentucky, Montana, and West Virginia, where nearly all students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.  The option was phased in a few states at a time and is now available to eligible school districts nationwide.

In the 2015–2016 school year, its second year of nationwide availability, more than 18,000 high-poverty schools in nearly 3,000 school districts across the country adopted community eligibility. These schools, which serve more than 8.5 million children, represent just over half of all eligible schools, a strikingly high take-up rate for such a new federal option.