September 15, 2023
Katie Herndon Dawkins, North Carolina Alliance for Health Communications Manager
For what it’s worth (FWIW), we believe that school meals are one of the most essential parts of the school day and that every child in every public school in the state should be able to eat school meals at no cost. But (disclaimer), the school meals program is extremely complicated. In our FWIW blog series, we will attempt to break down the intricacies and confusion around school meals and hopefully shed light on the “worth” of school meals. We’ve looked at how school meals are funded and how school meals are reimbursed. In this post, we’ll take a look at household meal applications.
In North Carolina, some schools participate in the Community Eligibility Provision or CEP (which is also complicated but that’s for a future blog post). CEP provides meals at no cost to all students in the school and families do not have to complete household school meal applications to determine if they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Schools that are eligible for CEP have high percentages of students from low-income families.
Schools that do not participate in CEP send home household applications and some also post them online for families to complete to determine if they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Eligibility is based on several factors, including household size, federal poverty level, and household income. Based on these figures, families will fall into one of three categories: eligible for reduced-price meals, eligible for free meals, or ineligible for either, meaning students must pay full price for school meals. In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation that provided funding to cover the co-pay amount for reduced-price breakfast. This summer, the General Assembly included funding in the budget to cover the copay for reduced-price school lunches for the 22-23 school year. So families who are eligible for either reduced-price or free school meals based on their household application will be able to eat both breakfast and lunch for free this school year.
It’s important to note that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and federal waivers, families have not had to fill out the household application for the last two years. Schools and school districts across the state are working to communicate the importance of completing the application since some families have never had to do this and others may not know that the waivers have ended and they must submit an application.
The household application benefits students and families in ways that most people don’t know about. The most obvious benefit to students is that the application is used to determine if they are eligible to receive school meals at no cost. Eligible students can also receive discounted fees for the SAT, ACT, and other academic tests, as well as discounted college application fees. Sports and other extracurricular activity fees can also be discounted or even free for students who qualify. Families can also qualify for discounted internet services. All of these benefits are available with just one application! Students also benefit from increased school funding that is based on data from family meal applications. It really is more than just a meal application.