Bill Would Strengthen School Nutrition Programs Through Improvements to Direct Certification and Community Eligibility
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced The School Modernization and Efficient Access to Lunches for Students Act of 2019 (S. 2692), which would improve school nutrition programs and expand access to school meals for vulnerable children. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2018, more than 11 million children faced food insecurity and school nutrition programs are essential to ensuring children have access to healthy meals.
The School Modernization and Efficient Access to Lunches for Students (School MEALS) Act would make commonsense improvements to direct certification and community eligibility. Direct certification allows schools to use data matching procedures to approve school meals without the need for an application, and the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) enables high-need districts to offer free meals to all students. The bill helps improve these tools, which address existing barriers that continue to prevent many eligible districts from adopting CEP and or having effective direct certification processes. Direct certification and CEP have been shown to significantly increase access to school breakfast and lunch programs, reduce burdensome administrative work and help eliminate unpaid meal debt.
“Millions of children are struggling every day with not knowing where their next meal is coming from,” said Senator Casey. “We know that many children rely on school meals to get nutritious foods on a daily basis, and that free and reduced lunch programs help millions of children nationwide. I introduced the School MEALS Act to reduce food insecurity and prevent children from going hungry. Children who have enough to eat are better able to learn in the classroom and thrive.”
“The School MEALS Act will make it easier for schools to implement community eligibility,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research & Action Center. ”This means more vulnerable children will get the nutrition they need to learn without hunger, and without stigma. We are very pleased to support this bill.”
“With nearly half a million food insecure children in Pennsylvania, school meals are essential for ensuring that children have proper nutrition so that they can grow and learn to their fullest potential. Still, we have found that for many schools, the certification process to provide free school meals can be burdensome,” said Jane Clements-Smith, Executive Director of Feeding Pennsylvania. “Thanks to Senator Casey’s School MEALS Act of 2019, we are hopeful that more schools will be able to take advantage of direct certification and community eligibility so that all children who qualify are able to receive free nutritious meals during the school day.”
Specifically, the School MEALS Act of 2019 would:
- Fund direct certification improvements through USDA grants and technical assistance;
- Expedite the process through which states must implement necessary direct certification improvements;
- Provide added timing flexibilities for schools to elect CEP and gather eligibility data.