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Bills would address child food insecurity by expanding access to free or reduced-price school meals

Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Fetterman (D-PA) introduced two bills that would expand access to free or reduced-price meals for millions of American children. When children experience food insecurity, they face unique barriers that affect their ability to do well in school. The bills expand criteria for individual students to receive free or reduced-price school meals, lower the threshold required for districts to offer free school meals for all students, and increase reimbursements for schools to cover meal costs without compromising students’ access to meals.

“Children should be able to focus on learning without worrying about where their next meal is going to come from. Senator Fetterman and I are introducing these bills to fight for the 13 million children in our Nation who lack consistent access to food,” said Senator Casey. “I will keep pushing to ensure that all children have enough to eat.”

“Ensuring that our children have enough to eat is one of the most fundamental responsibilities we have,” said Senator Fetterman. “It’s simply unacceptable that children in our nation suffer from food insecurity because of excessive red tape and petty political games in Washington. We must do more to cut through bureaucratic hurdles and improve our nutrition programs. Both of these bills would go a long way to create a healthier, more equitable future for all of our children. I’m proud to partner with Senator Casey on this critical issue.”

The School Hunger Elimination Act would expand student access to free or reduced-price school meals on both the individual and district levels. Direct certification—a process used to identify and enroll students in free or reduced-price meal programs—would expand so that a broader number of students could qualify. The bill would also work on a district level by amending the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)—a tool that allows schools in high-need communities to provide free school meals to all students. For a district to qualify for CEP, a certain percentage of the student population must be individually eligible for direct certification. The bill would also require that districts that adopt CEPs be reimbursed at a higher rate to help schools cover the costs of free meals. 

The Nutrition Red Tape Reduction Act would reduce the threshold for districts to qualify for CEP from 50% of student participation in the district to 25%. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ruled to expand the CEP to 25% in 2023. This bill would put the USDA’s ruling into law and increase the number of schools who are eligible to provide free meals to all students.

Both bills work together to address the critical child hunger issue by expanding access to free or reduced-price meals while also providing districts with sufficient reimbursement to cover costs of providing more meals at a reduced rate.

Read more about the School Hunger Elimination Act here

Read more about the Nutrition Red Tape Reduction Act here