USDA rule update allows more students to be eligible for free school meals

Over 5 million K-12 students from low-income communities will now be eligible for breakfast and lunch at their schools at no cost, per a rule change announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Schools where 25 percent of those enrolled come from families covered by benefits programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) will now have the federal government cover the cost of meals for all enrolled students. The original threshold was 40 percent.

The rule is an expansion of the Community Eligibility Provision, a “simplified meal service option that allows schools to provide meals at no cost to all students,” without requiring an application from families. Instead, schools receive funding for free meals based on data from SNAP and similar federal programs.

In addition to CEP, eight states (California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont) have passed their own laws to allow all schools in these states to serve free meals to students.

“Today’s announcement comes as we approach the one-year anniversary of the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, where the Biden-Harris Administration promised to advance a pathway to healthy school meals for all students,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in the USDA announcement. “USDA has taken an important step toward fulfilling that promise by expanding access to CEP. Increasing access to free, healthy school breakfast and lunch will decrease childhood hunger, improve child health and student readiness, and put our nation on the path to better nutrition and wellness.”

The announcement called the CEP update “a win-win for schools, kids, families and communities.”


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