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Office for Food and Nutrition Programs

Community Eligibility Provision

Community Eligibility Provision is a new, innovative provision that allows high need schools to serve free meals to all students while alleviating the administrative burden to collect paper applications. Community eligibility allows for a healthier student body and a healthier school meal budget. Below are just a few of the advantages:

  1. Community eligibility will increase participation of children in the school meal programs.

  2. Community eligibility will reduce administrative costs related to collecting and processing applications and tracking students based on their meal eligibility status. As a result of expanded student participation and reductions in administrative work, there will be stronger school nutrition programs overall.

  3. Community eligibility will afford schools the ability to no longer collect payments or use swipe cards or other systems during the meal service.

  4. Community eligibility requires schools to serve universal free school breakfast, and it is a great way to facilitate the adoption of innovative breakfast models, such as Breakfast in the Classroom.

  5. Community eligibility will also help students because families no longer have to complete meal applications and it can reduce stigma because all students are eating meals at no charge, regardless of their income status. And, studies show that well-nourished children are able to focus in class and ultimately do better in school.

What is Community Eligibility Provision or CEP?

Section 104(a) of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Act) amended section 11(a)(1) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to provide an alternative that eliminates the need for household applications for free and reduced-price meals in high-poverty LEAs and schools. This alternative, which is now part of the NSLP, is referred to as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

To be eligible, LEAs and/or schools must meet a minimum level of "identified students" for free meals in the year prior to implementing Community Eligibility; agree to serve free breakfasts and lunches to all students; and agree to cover with non-Federal funds any costs of providing free meals to students above the amounts provided by Federal assistance. Reimbursement for each LEA or school is based on claiming percentages derived from the percentage of identified students, i.e., students certified for free meals through means other than individual household applications. The identified student percentage is not the same as the total number of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Identified student counts only include the following:

  • Directly certified students and extension of direct certification benefits to other household members
  • Homeless students certified as such by the district liaison
  • Migrant youth certified by local officials
  • Runaway youth certified by local officials
  • Head Start students and
  • Foster children, certified based on documentation from the foster child case worker

The claiming percentages established in the first year for an LEA or school may be used for four school years and may be increased if the percentage of identified students rises for the LEA or school.

This program requires schools to offer breakfast and lunch, but will allow individual schools to count and claim meals without the normal free and reduced application process. Schools that participate in CEP will no longer be required to collect Free and Reduced Price School Meals Family Applications to determine student eligibility for free meals. Meals will still need to be counted at the Point of Service (POS), but just the total meals, not meals by category.

How can a district qualify?

Any school building that has a percentage of "identified students" of 40 percent or more, according to the data reported as of April 1, 2014, will be eligible to participate.

The percentage is calculated by taking all "Identified students" including students directly certified through SNAP, TANF; children experiencing homelessness and on the local liaison's list; Head Start children; migrant youth; runaways; and non-applicants approved by local officials. Foster children who are certified through means other than a household application and students who are certified for free meals based on a letter provided by SNAP to the household are also included. Districts can participate in a variety of ways: by individual school building direct certification rate, groups of schools' direct certification rate, or by an entire district's direct certification rate.

Do districts need to re-apply every year?

Once an LEA or school is approved, it may participate in the program for a duration of four consecutive years without having to reapply. However, if an LEA or school is not at 100 percent free reimbursement, it may provide a new set of direct certification numbers to the Department for approval each year to increase the reimbursement percentage.

What if a district wants to opt out?

If approved and accepted into the CEP program, LEAs and schools are required to participate for the entire school year. If an LEA or school decides the program is not beneficial to them, they may opt out of the program on June 30th for the following school year.

For more information:

Please contact Kerry Callahan .

For further details, please contact the USDA Food and Nutrition Service by mail at 3101 Park Center Drive, Alexandria, Virginia 22302, or visit the FNS programs website.

Download Word Document
FCC E-Rate CEP Policy

Last Updated: March 27, 2019

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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