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New State Funding Available to Schools Enrolled in the Community Eligibility Provision
The enacted FY2024 State Budget included an additional $134.6M to expand access to free school meals through the new Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) State Subsidy. This funding will become available to schools in the upcoming 2023-2024 school year. Learn more

Program Basics

CEP is a federal provision that allows high-poverty schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. This option increases school meal participation by removing stigma, maximizes federal reimbursements, reduces administrative paperwork, and eliminates unpaid school meal debt. CEP schools continue to operate both the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs, and must uphold nutrition standards and meal quality, but processes and procedures for counting and claiming reimbursable meals are simplified. CEP is available to any school, group of schools or district that has 40% or more students directly certified for free school meals, by means other than a school meal application.

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How CEP Works

CEP schools:

  • Must provide both breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost.
  • Do not track meals by fee category (i.e. free, reduced-price, paid). They simply count the total number of meals served.
  • Do not collect payment/fees from students.
  • Do not collect and verify school meal applications. Note: In New York State, schools must still collect alternative household income forms for other state and local funding. Learn more about best practices for collecting income forms here.
  • All meals served in CEP schools are now reimbursed at the “free rate” with the new CEP State Subsidy.


Any district, group of schools in a district, or individual school with 25% or more* “identified students”—children eligible for free school meals who are identified by means other than an individual household application—can participate in CEP.

Identified students include:

  • Children directly certified for free school meals because their household participates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), and in certain instances, Medicaid.
  • Children certified for free school meals without an application because they are homeless or a runaway, migrant, in foster care, or participating in Head Start.

Direct certification helps determine which schools are eligible for CEP. Starting in the 2023-2024 school year, the CEP State Subsidy ensures all CEP meals are reimbursed at the “free rate”. This new state funding will allow all New York schools who are eligible for CEP to provide free meals to all students while alleviating the financial burden on schools.

Our Direct Certification tipsheet helps schools identify which students are directly certified for free school meals and improve their direct certification process.

Download Our Tip Sheet


*Note: The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) amended CEP regulations by lowering the minimum identified student percentage (ISP) from 40 percent to 25 percent, effective October 26, 2023. 

How to apply

Schools must apply to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to participate in CEP.

NEW for the 2023-2024 school year:

NYSED is now accepting applications for schools to adopt or expand CEP mid-year. We encourage schools to apply as soon as possible. Applications will be approved on a rolling basis. Once approved, schools will be able to implement CEP starting the following month. For example, schools who are approved in November may begin offering meals at no cost to all students starting December 1.

Applications are accepted until December 15, 2023. Visit NYSED’s website to apply.

Eligibility is based on the percentage of identified students calculated using enrollment as of April 1. However, for this mid-year election, schools without access to April 1, 2023 enrollment information may use enrollment as of October 6, 2023.

Maximizing CEP’s Impact

Once free breakfast is available to all students, CEP schools can make it more accessible by incorporating it into the school day, with Breakfast After the Bell programs including Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab and Go and Second Chance Breakfast.

Schools that implement CEP without alternative breakfast service models have seen minimal increases in breakfast participation when compared to schools that have implemented CEP in addition to a Breakfast after the Bell program. By far, the combination of Breakfast After the Bell and CEP yields the largest increase in participation.

We can help

We can provide you with resources, data, and best-practices to improve participation in school meal programs. We provide tailored one-on-one assistance to schools, supported by extensive district-level analysis, to help:

  • Increase access to and participation in the School Breakfast Program
  • Implement alternative breakfast service models
  • Offer universal meals through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)
  • Maximize direct certification, program participation, and funding for successful meal programs.

Contact Jessica Pino-Goodspeed, Manager, School Meals Policy & Engagement, for assistance.

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