Hunger In The Media, News & Events

Community Eligibility Program At Risk

April 23, 2024

I think we can all agree that keeping kids fed, especially while they’re at school, is incredibly important, and crucial for learning. It’s why we’ve seen so many states adopt free school meals for students regardless of their economic demographics. As of April 2024, 8 states have policies in practice regarding free school meals, with Colorado having adopted the Healthy School Meals for All Program just this school year! There are an additional 28 states that have similar legislation in the works, or just recently passed. This level of popularity and agreement across so many states demonstrates how much we care about keeping kids fed. 

Why then, is there a drafted Federal budget for 2025  proposing the elimination of the Community Eligibility Provision from the School Lunch Program? For those who may be unfamiliar with Community Eligibility Provision, it is a program that allows the nation’s low income schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students, without the need to collect individual household applications.  In this budget, it is proposed that the Community Eligibility Provision be cut, and only those who are financially eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch through the National School Lunch Program application receive meals at no cost throughout the school year. 

It might seem like this would be a good idea to reduce federal costs to only provide for those who are explicitly below the federal level of poverty; however, we already know that there are 1 in 6 people currently who are eligible for public benefits such as SNAP who are not enrolled, and thus are not utilizing the assistance they are entitled to. This tells us that eligibility alone for the program does not mean that people will receive their needed access to nutrition. Food insecurity continues to rise, with 11.2% of Coloradans not having enough to meet their nutritional needs, 25% of whom are children.

The “why” behind this proposed cut is stated to be preventing “widespread fraud.” The citation is coming from this report, which states that there is a higher rate of students using FRL programs than there were rates of improper payment, or the number of kids who were not able to pay for their meals in full, or pay off any balance owed to the school for meals, in schools. However, this report is older than the Healthy School Meals for All Program, which ensures that all kids in an eligible school can eat for free and thus have better cognition, which leads to improved performance in school. The citation doesn’t make sense as an argument to punish kids who need access to nutrition, especially when the need is so blatantly evident. 

Here in Colorado, Healthy School Meals for All has been a massive success. Every eligible district has enrolled in the program, and there has been a 36% increase in breakfast and 31% increase in lunch provided to students. With food costs continuing to rise, with a projection of yet another price hike, these programs can be what makes or breaks a family’s budget. On average, a family saves $1,250 per child each year because of Healthy School Meals for All. 

If you’d like to show your support for keeping school kids fed, please contact your representatives. This form will send an email to applicable representatives to show your support for Healthy School Meals for All.