A Beginner’s Guide to the Community Eligibility Provision

Posted by Mike Lepiane on Oct 1, 2015 6:13:20 PM

A Beginner's Guide to CEP

To CEP, or not to CEP?
That is the question. Whether ‘tis easier to suffer the pains of paper application processing, or to take Community Eligibility against a sea of applications.

CEP is more than just another USDA delivered acronym. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows school districts with high poverty rates to easily serve free meals to eligible students. Both breakfast and lunch can be served to all students by removing the need for schools to distribute, collect, and process paper applications.

Who isn’t up for less paperwork and more benefits? CEP reduces the administrative costs related to the dreaded paper application. No more processing paper applications, tracking unpaid meal charges, and monitoring your student's eligibility status. Your student’s family won’t need to complete an application, which will reduce that “free student” stigma attached to income status.

CEP has numerous benefits for your program, staff, and families, but you may still have a few questions about Community Eligibility…

Does it work?
Analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the Food Research and Action Center deliver a resounding ‘YES’. The first 3 CEP Pilot states, Illinois, Michigan and Kentucky, have seen success with an increase of 13% in lunch participation and 25% in breakfast participation in the schools that did participate.

What are the criteria?
Great question and you just might be surprised by the answer. Schools and school districts that have more than 40% of students that are identified as being “approved” for free meals are Directly Certified because they are either SNAP eligible, homeless, or in foster care.

Many Free & Reduced software programs, like NUTRIKIDS Free & Reduced, provide Student Eligibility Reports that give you a snapshot of the number of approved students at your district. This snapshot will help you determine if your district meets the criteria for CEP.

How do I know if my school is eligible?
States are required to post lists of eligible schools and districts on their websites. The Community Eligibility Database, provided by CBPP, is a great tool to find out if your school is eligible for CEP.

School Districts and Schools That are Eligible for the School Meals Community Eligibility Provision

Provided by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Are there tools available to help make a sound financial decision for my district?
Yes! There is a calculator available to schools across the nation to assist with financial decisions. The No Kid Hungry School Calculator, provided by No Kid Hungry, will guide you from start to finish. This tool provides schools with an in-depth analysis of their annual estimated costs, reimbursements, and projected student participation based on the information you enter. Watch their short video to learn more about how to use this helpful tool.

I need more information, more resources, more input!
Great to hear! We hope that you are energized to find out more about how CEP can benefit your school. Check out these resources for more information about CEP:


What other advice or resources would you share with your fellow school nutrition professionals who are considering CEP? Share in the comments below:

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Topics: Direct Certification, Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), Nutrikids