New USDA Provision Allows for Healthier Students, Healthier Budget

January 29, 2014

An update and overview of community eligibility

For the past two years, schools in Chicago and across Illinois have benefited from a new opportunity from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) called community eligibility. Community eligibility allows schools with high percentages of low-income children to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. It increases participation by children in the school meal programs, reduces labor costs for schools and increases federal revenues. In short, it allows for a healthier student body and a healthier school meal budget.

Community eligibility was included as a new option in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and over the past two years, schools in pilot states — including Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New York and Ohio — have been offering the program.

Last November the USDA released proposed regulations [pdf] for making this option a reality for all schools nationwide with significant low-income student populations (40 percent or more). These new regulations, which would go into effect beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, represent an exciting step towards ensuring a healthier student population across the country.

HSC was honored to have the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed regulations, which provide an excellent foundation for a strong final rule. HSC’s comments focused on a few areas where additional clarification, flexibility, or certainty would be helpful or where additional protections for low-income children or high-poverty schools are warranted. You can view the comments HSC submitted here [pdf].

Thanks to our friends at the Food Research and Action Coalition and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for sharing their expertise on this issue and preparing model comments for stakeholders across the country to send to the USDA.

We are excited by the promise of the community eligibility provision and look forward to supporting the implementation of this important new program.