Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Improving Access to the National School Lunch Program

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has released a report detailing key steps to improving access to free and reduced-price school meals.

The National School Lunch Program is a federal program that strives to provide students with a nutritious lunch every school day. As many families struggle in the current economic climate, this program has been especially important.  Research suggests, for example, that access to nutritious food helps foster healthy development and learning. While the school lunch program serves many students, some eligible children miss out on these meals. CBPP’s report highlights recent policy changes that simplify the enrollment process in an attempt to reach more eligible children.

According to the report, some families are unaware of the school lunch program or face other barriers to participation, such as complex enrollment forms. The report suggests ways that state and local program administrators can improve program access. Specifically, CBPP highlights six opportunities:
  1. Reach more children in households receiving SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) by improving direct certification data matching 
  2. Reach eligible children who receive other means-tested public benefits by expanding direct certification data matching 
  3. Reach children in foster care and homeless, migrant, and runaway children by strengthening the processes to directly certify these children 
  4. Eliminate access barriers by simplifying applications and subsequent communications 
  5. Ensure year-long enrollment by retaining eligible children throughout the school year 
  6. Provide free meals to all children in high-poverty schools by utilizing the new community eligibility option 
To view specifics on how to enact each step, please click here.

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