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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NJ Lags in New School Breakfast Payment Option
New Jersey schools are behind the curve in taking advantage of a new option that can bring more federal dollars into school districts to pay for meals for low-income children, according to a national report released today.
Just 35 percent of eligible, high-poverty New Jersey schools have taken advantage of the “Community Eligibility Provision,” compared to more than half of schools nationwide, according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). This option allows school districts to reduce paperwork and provide meals free to all students, while earning higher federal per-meal reimbursements.
Nationally, in the 2015–2016 school year, more than 18,000 high- poverty schools in nearly 3,000 school districts have adopted community eligibility -- an increase of about 4,000 schools compared to the prior year, according to FRAC. This was the second year of nationwide availability of this option.
Almost all states, including New Jersey, increased the number of districts implementing community eligibility, but the rise in the number of participating districts varied considerably across states. Some states doubled or nearly doubled their participating districts.
Some New Jersey districts have been reluctant to take advantage of the new option because they fear loss of state education aid, which is based, in part, on the school meals applications that most district still collect. Under community eligibility, districts are not required to collect those applications.
The New Jersey Department of Education, however, has provided a household income survey that districts can use in place of the school meal applications. Information only has to be collected for the students who are not “directly certified” through their enrollment in other assistance programs.
Some districts, including Paterson, Union City and Camden, are successfully using community eligibility and have reported an increase in students receiving meals at school, coupled with a reduction in paperwork.
Other high-poverty districts, including Atlantic City, Bridgeton and Trenton, have yet to take advantage of this option.
The provision became available nationwide in the 2014–2015 school year. Schools across the country have quickly adopted it due to its many benefits to children in high-poverty schools, the report said. It not only eliminates redundant paperwork at such schools, but can also increase the number of vulnerable children who receive a healthy breakfast and lunch at school each day, giving them the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn.
Community eligibility simplifies the school meal enrollment process for high-poverty schools by enabling them to do away with household meal applications — eliminating a major administrative burden — and serve breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students.
Students in households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) can be identified through data matching, a process known as “direct certification.” Other students can be automatically enrolled for free meals because they are homeless, migrant, runaway, in Head Start or in foster care.
To read the full report, visit frac.org. For more information on implementing community eligibility, click here.
The Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign is a partnership of state agencies, child advocates, anti-hunger coalitions, statewide education organizations and national organizations.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey