COVID-19 financial impact may increase number of kids needing meal assistance: Study

Montgomery County staff preparing meals.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – More than 522,000 low-income children benefitted from the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) on an average weekday in Kentucky during the 2019–2020 school year, a 5.1 percent increase the previous year, according to Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger-Free Schools, School Year 2019-2020a new report from the Food Research & Action Center, a national anti-hunger advocacy group.

The report analyzes community eligibility implementation in the 2019–2020 school year to examine the number of school districts and schools eligible for and participating in CEP, nationally by each state and the District of Columbia.

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Kentucky has the second highest participation rate in the nation, with 97.9 percent of the 1,050 eligible schools participating. The Community Eligibility Program allows high-need schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.

The upcoming school year offers an important opportunity to increase the number of schools implementing community eligibility. More schools will be eligible or find community eligibility a financially viable option, as families across the current are hurt by the economic crisis created by COVID-19.

“We are focused on strengthening statewide efforts to make sure low-income children have access to school breakfast and lunch offered at no charge,” said Kate McDonald, KY Kids Eat Coordinator, Feeding Kentucky.

“School districts looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year should consider implementing community eligibility, which offers an important opportunity to support their students during this economic crisis. Thousands of families losing jobs or wages, and families will need access to free school meals to keep hunger at bay. An increase in CEP is a huge win for the Kentucky Department of Education, school districts, and most importantly, Kentucky kids,” McDonald said.

Feeding Kentucky announced its intention to work with the Kentucky Department of Education and education partners to promote community eligibility to newly eligible school districts in Kentucky and to provide technical assistance and support to allow these districts to implement community eligibility successfully and sustainably.