Ensuring that Every Child has Access to School Meals

Latino boy eatingThrough the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Reauthorization Act, Congress has the opportunity to invest in the health and well-being of millions of America’s children and families, including Latinos. These programs should strengthen, not weaken, the critical child nutrition programs authorized under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. To achieve this, these programs must continue to promote opportunities for children to access healthy meals and snacks at school, in after-school programs, and during the summer months. These programs are critical for Latino children to lead healthy, productive lives.

Millions of children, including 4.7 million Latino children living in food insecure households, count on the child nutrition programs to act as a buffer against hunger throughout the year. The National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program hold particular importance for the Latino community, as seven million Latino children receive free and reduced-price school meals every day, accounting for one-third of all participants. It is critical that all children, especially those at risk of going hungry, have consistent access to healthy, nutritious food at school.

Community Eligibility Provision

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One of the more recent efforts to improve access to school meals is the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP allows schools in high-poverty areas to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. This ensures that every child is able to access the healthy, nutritious meals they need to thrive at school, all while reducing the costs of administrating the school meals programs.

Although CEP has only been available nationwide since the 2014–15 school year, take-up of this provision is already very strong. During the 2015–16 school year, 18,000 schools participated in CEP. Take-up of CEP was highest among the highest-poverty schools, where nearly all children qualify for free school meals already.


However, legislation currently under consideration in the House of Representatives would make it more difficult for schools to qualify for CEP, and would take the program away from thousands already using it. The number of schools that have taken up CEP demonstrate the importance of this program. Taking CEP away from schools that have already implemented the program would increase the administrative burden placed on these schools and could result in children losing access to school meals altogether.

In-language applications

While millions of children are able to access free school meals through CEP, millions more attend a non-CEP school and must submit an application to qualify for free and reduced-price meals. For these children, the primary language spoken at home should not be a barrier for participation in the school meals programs. Legislation that reauthorizes the child nutrition programs must continue to make sure that school districts provide limited English proficient (LEP) households with “meaningful access” to school meals, notifications, and free and reduced-price school meals applications. This means that applications continue to be sent year-round, and in a family’s preferred language as current federal guidelines require.

Importance of school meals

Every child must have access to healthy, nutritious meals at school, because hungry, malnourished children cannot learn. CEP, along with guidelines that ensure parents receive in-language school meals applications year-round, are already working to alleviate child hunger across the nation. Any plan to reauthorize the child nutrition programs must maintain and build on these efforts. For the millions of children who count on the school meals programs, going backwards is not an option.

For more information about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act and its impact on Latino children and families, download our fact sheet.

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