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Community Eligibility Deadline Extended to August 31

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the deadline for applying for community eligibility in the National School Lunch and breakfast programs to Aug. 31, the agency said in a letter to state nutrition program directors this week.

The Food Research Action Center shared that letter on its website. The original deadline to apply was June 30.

Through community eligibility, participating high-poverty districts can offer free meals to all students without requiring income verification from individual families. The measure was piloted in select states and districts this year. Next year, the option will be available to qualifying districts nationwide. The USDA estimates that more than 22,000 schools are eligible for the program. "CEP has the potential to offer more than 8 million low-income children free meals each school day," Cynthia Long, a deputy administrator for child nutrition programs, wrote in the letter.

The Food Research Action Council has attributed increases in school meal participation (particularly breakfast) in part to community eligibility participation. About 51.9 percent of children from low-income homes who participated in school lunch programs in the 2012-2013 school year also ate school breakfasts, the organization found in a January report. That's an increase from the 2011-2012 school year, when about 50.4 percent of low-income lunch eaters also ate breakfast.

But, as Education Week reported last year, some districts fear the elimination of family-income surveys could lead to less reliable data on poverty rates and, consequently, less federal funding targeted toward low-income students. That's been a concern in New York City, which has resisted adopting the provision so far, WNYC reports.

"'We're not yet there for a reason,' [Mayor Bill] de Blasio said recently. 'We have looked long and hard at the question of what it will do to our federal funding writ large for school food, and we are not convinced at this point that it won't, unfortunately, have the negative impact of reducing our federal funding substantially.'

With more than a million students, New York City gets hundreds of millions of dollars a year in federal Title I aid, and here's the problem: Those troublesome little lunch forms play a big role in determining how that money is doled out."

WNYC goes on to quote advocates for the provision, who say Detroit has adopted it with no effect on its Title I funding.

You can learn more about qualifying for the Community Eligibility Provision here.

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