Community Eligibility Provision, commonly referred to as CEP, is a no-cost meal service option for high-need schools that meet an eligibility threshold of at least 40%. Once implemented, CEP schools are able to provide a free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of their individual eligibility status. Since CEP’s nationwide implementation in the 2014-2015 school year, CEP has had an astounding impact on school meal programs and the overall access of nutritious foods for students. Additionally, community eligibility provisions have provided a much needed relief from the hidden administrative burdens involved when operating NSLP.
“...community eligibility has been a game changer for thousands of schools across the country. 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 meals; ensures that all students have the nutrition they need to learn and thrive at school; and eliminates unpaid school meal fees.”
While the many benefits of running a CEP program are evident, it turns out only one of four eligible schools are choosing to opt-in due to the financial impracticalities. Unlike programs who collect annual meal applications, CEP is reimbursed based on a direct certification formula that determines the % of reimbursements at the free rate vs. the % of paid meals which the school will need to cover out of pocket. Due to the low 1.6 multiplier, many schools are finding that the amount of meals they would need to cover is a higher feat than what they are willing to take on.
As schools return to pre-pandemic schedules and meal operations, the financial strain and insecurities of COVID-19 are still very present. FRAC and supporting organizations are pushing for congress to consider the following community eligibility revisions, which will expand children’s access to healthy free meals at school while also creating a provision option that is financially viable long term for administrations.
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;
Increase the multiplier for CEP’s reimbursement formula from 1.6 to 2.5;
Creating a statewide community eligibility option.
School Food and Wellness Group believes that access to healthy meals, regardless of financial status, is a key ingredient for students’ success in schools! We at SFWG proudly join the list of organizations pushing for the expansion and viability of community eligibility provisions, as it is an important step to ensuring that every child has the tools they need to thrive.