A multi-faceted approach brings a needed surge in school meal program participation.

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The need for low cost school lunches continues to grow in Central Texas.  According to the most recently released data from Kids Count, a greater share of the school population is turning to the federal free and reduced price lunch program in every Central Texas county we serve.  Meanwhile we’re providing emergency food assistance to 20,000 children every week, children who rely on our services to support their physical activity and ability to fully participate in the classroom.

Complex application processes and paperwork often create unnecessary barriers, making it difficult for children to access school meals for free or at a reduced cost.  To reach the most children and support families who need the program to help make ends meet, states have great flexibility on how to minimize applications while reaching the right families.  Texas schools benefit with reduced labor costs and increased federal revenues to nourish their little scholars.  Here are three ways Texas makes it easier to connect children to healthy school meals:

  1. Categorical eligibility means that if a child has been identified for certain at-risk categories (e.g. homeless, Head Start participant, in foster care) then he or she can receive free meals.   To apply, the family only needs to submit the child’s name, a signature of an adult household member and, if they participate in certain federal assistance programs, the case number for the child.
  2. Under direct certification, school districts rely on information from Texas Health and Human Services to match TANF and Food Stamp households with the school lunch program. Households don’t have to fill out any additional paperwork which greatly reduces administrative costs for the state.
  3. Community eligibility allows for all children attending a school where a certain percent of the student population participate in the free and reduced price program to receive free breakfast and lunch.  In the last Texas legislative session, the Governor signed the School Breakfast Bill which provides free breakfast to all children attending schools with 80 percent  of the student population is eligible for free/reduced price meals.

For the 2014-15 school year, all states can choose to participate in a new federal program where free breakfast and lunch is available to all students if 40 percent of the school population is eligible for free or reduced price meals.  This program has been rolled out in 11 states, and the results are impressive. It’s not too early to start planning on how you can put this program in your neighborhood school.  You can learn more about this exciting new opportunity here.

If we are to end child hunger in Central Texas, we should be using every resource at our disposal.  Your involvement and advocacy is critical.  Here are our recommended resources to help:

Community Eligibility: Making High-Poverty Schools Hunger Free
Community Eligibility: A Powerful Tool in the Fight Against Child Hunger
Resource guide on how to educate your state and school district about community eligibility.