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Rep. Fudge Introduces the School MEALS Act to Expand Access to School Nutrition Programs

WASHINGTON – Today,Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11) introduced the School Modernization and Efficient Access to Lunches for Students Act of 2019, known as the School MEALS Act, to strengthen school nutrition programs.  The bill provides states with funding to improve their direct certification processes and increases flexibility for school districts to implement the Community Eligibility Provision, increasing access to free school meals for vulnerable students.

“With more than ten million children struggling with food insecurity across the country, free school meals are critical to fighting childhood hunger,” said Rep. Fudge.  “I am proud to introduce the School MEALS Act to expand access to school nutrition programs that enable students to maintain a nutritious diet and stay healthy and focused in the classroom.   Improvements to direct certification and community eligibility will help to reduce barriers that prevent eligible students from receiving the nutritious school meals they deserve.”

“The School MEALS Act will make it easier for eligible high-need schools to implement community eligibility and provide nutritious meals at no charge to all students,” said Jim Weill, President of the Food Research and Action Center.  “This means less hunger and stigma for vulnerable children, and more opportunity for students to be healthy and to learn and thrive in the classroom.  FRAC is proud to support this bill.”

“Increasing access to free school meals is a critical way to ensure children have nutritious food during the school day,” said Kristin Warzocha, President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.  “Food banks across the United States play a crucial role in the fight against childhood hunger; however, research shows that access to free school meals is instrumental in lowering child food insecurity.”

Direct certification and the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) are key tools used by school districts to reduce administrative barriers to school meal participation and increase access to free meals for low-income students.  Direct certification allows states and school districts to use data already verified through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to approve children for free school meals without schools needing to process school meal applications.  CEP enables high-need districts and schools, determined to have a high population of directly certified students, to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge, further eliminating the need for families to submit school meal applications.

Specifically, the School MEALS Act would:

  • Fund direct certification improvements through USDA grants and technical assistance;
  • Expedite the process through which states must implement necessary direct certification improvements; and
  • Provide added timing flexibilities for schools to adopt CEP and gather eligibility data.

The bill is endorsed by the following organizations: Feeding America, Feeding Pennsylvania, National Milk Producers Federation, the Food Research and Action Center, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Share Our Strength, and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Click here for the full bill text.

Click here for the full bill summary.