Tag Archives: Key Steps to Improve Access to Free and Reduced-Price School Meals

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Report: Improving access to school lunches

9 Sep

In School lunches: The political hot potato, moi said:

There are some very good reasons why meals are provided at schools. Education Bug has a history of the school lunch program

President Harry S. Truman began the national school lunch program in 1946 as a measure of national security. He did so after reading a study that revealed many young men had been rejected from the World War II draft due to medical conditions caused by childhood malnutrition. Since that time more than 180 million lunches have been served to American children who attend either a public school or a non-profit private school.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (Agriculture Department) has a School Lunch Program Fact Sheet

According to the fact sheet, more than 30 million children are fed by the program. Physicians for Responsible Medicine criticize the content of school lunch programs

In Healthy School Lunches the physicians group says:    

Menus in most school lunch programs are too high in saturated fat and cholesterol and too low in fiber- and nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (see PCRM’s 2008 School Lunch Report Card). Major changes are needed to encourage the health of the nation’s youth and to reverse the growing trends of obesity, early-onset diabetes, and hypertension, among other chronic diseases, in children and teens.  

A 2003 General Accounting Office (GAO) reached the same conclusion. See, School Lunch Program: Efforts Needed to Improve Nutrition and Encourage and Healthy Eating

The school lunch program is crucial for the nutritional well-being of many children. Catholic Online is reporting in the article, Nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population was on food stamps for month of August:

It was a harsh indicator of hard times here in the United States. Nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population relied on food stamps for the month of August, as the number of recipients hit 45.8 million. Food stamp rolls have risen 8.1 percent in the past year. The Department of Agriculture reported these startling new figures, that fly in face that the pace of growth has slowed from the depths of the recession….

Mississippi reported the largest share of food stamps recipients, more than 21 percent. One in five residents in New Mexico, Tennessee, Oregon and Louisiana were also food stamp recipients.


For many children who receive a free breakfast and/or a free lunch that means that they will not go hungry that day. See, Taking the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge [UPDATED] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-jan-schakowsky/taking-the-congressional_b_1072739.html

Education is the key for moving individuals, families, and communities out of poverty. In an ideal world, children would arrive at school ready-to-learn. Children who are hunger have a much more difficult time focusing in school. For a really good discussion of the effects of poverty on children, read the American Psychological Association (APA), Effects of Poverty, Hunger, and Homelessness on Children and Youth:

What are the effects of child poverty?

  • Psychological research has demonstrated that living in poverty has a wide range of negative effects on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our nation’s children.

  • Poverty impacts children within their various contexts at home, in school, and in their neighborhoods and communities.

  • Poverty is linked with negative conditions such as substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, inadequate child care, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and underresourced schools which adversely impact our nation’s children.

  • Poorer children and teens are also at greater risk for several negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays.

  • These effects are compounded by the barriers children and their families encounter when trying to access physical and mental health care.

  • Economists estimate that child poverty costs the U.S. $500 billion a year in lost productivity in the work force and spending on health care and the criminal justice system.

Poverty and academic achievement

  • Poverty has a particularly adverse effect on the academic outcomes of children, especially during early childhood.

  • Chronic stress associated with living in poverty has been shown to adversely affect children’s concentration and memory which may impact their ability to learn.

  • School drop out rates are significantly higher for teens residing in poorer communities. In 2007, the dropout rate of students living in low-income families was about 10 times greater than the rate of their peers from high-income families (8.8% vs. 0.9%).

  • The academic achievement gap for poorer youth is particularly pronounced for low-income African American and Hispanic children compared with their more affluent White peers.

  • Underresourced schools in poorer communities struggle to meet the learning needs of their students and aid them in fulfilling their potential.

  • Inadequate education contributes to the cycle of poverty by making it more difficult for low-income children to lift themselves and future generations out of poverty. http://www.apa.org/pi/families/poverty.aspx


Unfortunately, not all eligible children are part of the school lunch program.

Nate Frentz and Zoë Neuberger write in the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Report, Key Steps to Improve Access to Free and Reduced-Price School Meals:

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a well-established federal program that provides school children with a nutritious lunch every school day.  In recent years, free and reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches have been especially beneficial for children from low-income families that are struggling to afford nutritious food in the midst of a severe economic downturn.  The program is also a reliable source of nutritional support for particularly vulnerable children, such as children in foster care or who are homeless, runaway, or migrant, all of whom are automatically eligible for free meals in school.  

The school lunch program has a strong track record of serving eligible children; children in households with income at or below 130 percent of the poverty line are eligible for free meals and children in households at or below 185 percent of the poverty line are eligible for reduced-price meals.  But some eligible low-income children still miss out on meals that could foster healthy development and learning.  Thanks in part to policy changes in recent years, school meal programs have made gradual progress in simplifying the enrollment process with the goal of reaching more eligible children.  Still, some families are unaware of the program or face other barriers to participation such as complex forms or limited English proficiency.  Even among children who are eligible for free school meals without having to apply, as many as one in seven fail to receive certification.[1]

State and local program administrators can take steps to improve program access for eligible children in several key areas.  This paper highlights helpful resources and describes six key opportunities for advocates and program administrators to ensure that all eligible children are certified quickly and easily for free or reduced-price school meals:

  • Reaching more children in households receiving SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) by improving direct certification data matching
  • Reaching eligible children who receive other means-tested public benefits by expanding direct certification data matching
  • Reaching children in foster care and homeless, migrant, and runaway children by strengthening processes to directly certify them
  • Eliminating access barriers by simplifying applications and subsequent communications
  • Ensuring year-long enrollment by retaining eligible children throughout the school year
  • Providing free meals to all children in high-poverty schools by utilizing the new community eligibility option

State and local administrators and advocates can use this paper to identify access barriers in their schools and take steps to eliminate them during the coming school year.  By planning ahead, they also can make more substantial changes for future years.  A checklist of key steps to consider is followed by more detailed descriptions of each.

Checklist of Steps to Improve Program Access

To Improve Direct Certification for Children in Households Receiving SNAP Benefits
  • Regularly assess progress toward reaching all children in households receiving SNAP benefits
  • Refine the data matching process
  • Use any available data to reach all children in the household
  • Conduct matches as often as possible and develop the capacity to look up individual children
  • Regularly provide training and guidance for staff
To Expand Direct Certification for Children Receiving Other Means-tested Benefits
  • Apply to participate in the Medicaid direct certification demonstration project
  • Strengthen direct certification for children in households receiving TANF cash assistance or FDPIR benefits
To Strengthen Direct Certification for Children in Foster Care and Homeless, Migrant, and Runaway Children
  • Use data from the state or local child welfare agency to directly certify children in foster care
  • Use the automatic notification a school receives when a child enters foster care or changes foster homes as the basis for direct certification
  • Strengthen the direct certification process for homeless, migrant, and runaway children who have been identified by appropriate officials
  • Complete an application on behalf of an individual child — especially an unaccompanied youth — who is known to be eligible, but whose family has not applied
To Simplify Applications and Encourage Eligible Families to Apply
  • Provide materials in a language and at a level that parents can understand
  • Ask only for information necessary to determine eligibility
  • Reduce the potential for applicants to make calculation errors
  • Include school meals information in routine contacts with families and communities throughout the school year to encourage newly eligible families to apply
To Retain Eligible Children Throughout the School Year
  • Eliminate temporary approvals
  • For children who enroll during the school year, rely on the previous eligibility determination if it can be obtained promptly or conduct a new certification — using direct certification or a new application
  • Conduct direct verification
  • For applications that cannot be directly verified, accept the least burdensome form of reliable documentation and clearly explain to parents what they must provide
To Utilize the Community Eligibility Option
  • Apply to USDA to implement community eligibility during the 2013-2014 school year
  • For subsequent school years, implement community eligibility in schools or districts that serve predominantly low-income students


Related Areas of Research

PDF of this report (22pp.) http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3826

See, School Lunches: Report Outlines Steps To Streamline Access To Free And Reduced-Price Meals For Eligible Children http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/report-outlines-steps-to-_n_1862392.html?utm_hp_ref=education

Hungry children have more difficulty in focusing and paying attention, their ability to learn is impacted. President Truman saw feeding hungry children as a key part of the national defense.


Keeping our children healthy, hunger-free By Dr. Joe Thompson


Hunger in America: 2011 United States Hunger and Poverty Fact, World Hunger Education Service


Congress Pushes Back On Healthier School Lunches, Fights To Keep Pizza And Fries by Mary Clare Jalonick http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/congress-pushes-back-on-h_1_n_1094764.html?ref=education


What is a food hub?                                                            https://drwilda.com/2012/09/03/what-is-a-food-hub/

Do kids get enough time to eat lunch?                                          https://drwilda.com/2012/08/28/do-kids-get-enough-time-to-eat-lunch/

School dinner programs: Trying to reduce the number of hungry children                                                              https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/school-dinner-programs-trying-to-reduce-the-number-of-hungry-children/

School lunches: The political hot potato https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/school-lunches-the-political-hot-potato/

The government that money buys: School lunch cave in by Congress                                                                    https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/the-government-that-money-buys-school-lunch-cave-in-by-congress/

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©