WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2015 – Today at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that with the current school year underway, 97 percent of schools now report successfully meeting updated nutrition standards, and the number of eligible high-poverty schools utilizing USDA's Community Eligibility Provision has increased by 20 percent since last year. The Community Eligibility Program ensures universal access to healthy food for all children attending high-poverty schools, and this is the second school year that it has been available nationwide. Secretary Vilsack made this announcement before the members of the American Academy of Pediatrics which just this weekend demonstrated their commitment to improving child nutrition by releasing a policy statement calling for pediatricians across the country to play a role in reducing childhood food insecurity.
"The numbers released today, and the actions of these pediatricians, are a reflection of the commitment by thousands of schools, communities, physicians and nutrition leaders across the country to ensuring a healthier next generation," said Secretary Vilsack. "Thanks to the improvements we have made in school nutrition, our nation's children show up each day to healthier school environments, where they can easily get the nutrients they need for academic success and healthier futures. It is imperative that Congress moves quickly to reauthorize child nutrition legislation to give these men and women predictability in the work they are doing, and most importantly so that we do not reverse the progress made to date in improving the health and future well-being of America's children."
More than 15 million American children live in food-insecure households, without consistent access to sufficient food. In high-poverty schools, where a large percentage of students are in households receiving certain types of means-tested assistance, the Community Eligibility Provision allows schools to provide free meals to all students through a cost sharing model where part of the cost is covered by the federal government and the rest is picked up by the school. To date, more than 17,000 schools in high-poverty areas are offering nutritious meals to about 8 million students at no direct cost to the students through this provision.
Across the country, schools participating in CEP are making great strides in the fight against childhood hunger. They're also experiencing a number of other positive effects, such as significantly lower erroneous payments, decreased administrative burden for schools and parents, and increased participation in meal programs. This is, in part, because CEP works well with alternative breakfast models -- such as breakfast in the classroom, grab-n-go and second chance breakfasts -- that incorporate breakfast into the school day. The meals they serve are healthier than ever; nationwide, 97 percent of schools are now meeting the updated nutrition standards, and, as a result, students are trying new foods and eating more fruits and vegetables.
None of this would have been possible without the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. As Congress turns its attention to reauthorizing this bill, it's important to remember the role these programs play in ensuring access to safe, healthy food, for all American children. USDA is committed to working with the decreasingly few schools that are struggling to meet the standards, by providing training, flexibility, and technical assistance, so that all children have access to a healthier school day.