NEW YORK (WWTI) – New York State Senator Sean Ryan emphasized a federal rule change that will expand the list of New York schools eligible to offer all students two free meals every day.

The Community Eligibility Provision allows schools and school districts with high concentrations of low-income families to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students without an application for the benefit. In March, the USDA proposed the rule to lower the minimum threshold used to determine a school or district’s CEP eligibility and last month Senator Ryan urged the USDA to expedite the rulemaking process and enact the new threshold sooner.

Previously, at least 40% of enrolled students had to live in households participating in certain income-based federal assistance programs, for a school or school district to be eligible for CEP, taking effect on October 26, it has been dropped to 25%.

On October 26, more than 400 additional New York schools — over 80% of the state’s schoolchildren — are expected to become eligible because of the rule change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also opened a special mid-year election period allowing newly eligible schools to apply immediately so that their students can begin receiving free meals during the current school year.

 Schools in NY that adopt CEP are reimbursed by the USDA; however, the program does not completely cover the costs to provide meals to students and schools must cover the cost difference. In the 2023-2024 state budget, NY invested $135 million to reimburse participating schools for those costs, helping ensure that all eligible schools could participate. Prior to the rule change, the funding had provided an estimated 294,000 additional students with breakfast and lunch at no cost to the families or the school during the current school year.