BUCKHANNON – Providing an environment where students can best learn is a priority for Upshur County School System administrators and staff, so those officials were understandably dismayed when they received some upsetting news Thursday.
Upshur County School system is one in which the community is pulling together to fill backpacks of food to send home with students, so they have food to eat over the weekends.
But on Thursday, school officials learned from the W.Va. Department of Education that proposed changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Policy regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, would make it unlikely that Upshur County and West Virginia school systems would be able to continue offering breakfast and lunch to school students at no cost.
Upshur County School Officials are asking those concerned about losing this program to make comments by clicking on this link.
Upshur County Director of Child Nutrition Cynthia B. Nesselroade took to Facebook on Thursday, asking for folks to make comments during the open period which ends Nov. 1 – today. She said making comments will only take a few minutes of your time and will be a great investment for Upshur County Students.
Nesselroade provided a sample comment for those having trouble writing their own comments:
“I am writing in relation to the proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. I believe the changes to the SNAP program will dramatically affect a number of children in poverty that are currently being afforded the Community Eligibility Provision in Upshur County.
“These proposed rules could result in approximately 120,000 families not being eligible for SNAP benefits in our state and over a million throughout the country. Currently, SNAP benefits are one of the main determining factors that gives us our number of directly certified free and overall ‘percent needy.’
“West Virginia needs to be able to continue providing for the students considering our great needs in relation to poverty, the opioid epidemic and lack of health care. The Upshur County Board of Education voted to enter into this CEO agreement knowing that we would be committing county funds to make this work for our community. It has been one of the best investments for our community and the federal government has made to help meet the basic needs of our most precious commodity – the children who are suffering in poverty.”
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture opened the period for public comments regarding these changes on July 24, 2019, the West Virginia County Boards of Education were just notified earlier this week of the comment period which will end today.
So, what is the Community Eligibility Program and how will changes affect our local school children?
Nesselroade said Upshur County Schools has free meals in the schools because, “we qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision in the schools. The qualification comes because so many families receive SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.”
She said if they change the rules on how they determine SNAP eligibility, Upshur County may no longer qualify for CEP, adding that these are federal programs that provide assistance for low-income families.”
According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, “the Community Eligibility Provision or CEP is a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas. The CEP allows for the nation’s highest poverty schools and school districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications.
“Instead, schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students categorically eligible for free meals based on their participation in other specific means-tested programs such as SNAP and TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”
West Virginia Schools and school districts became eligible for participation in the CEP Program for the 2012-2013 academic year.
The West Virginia Department of Education said the CEP was, “enacted as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, an innovative universal free meal service option designed to make it easier for low-income children to receive meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.”
On their website, the WVDE said the CEP is an alternative to collecting, approving and verifying household eligibility applications for free and reduced-price eligible students in high poverty local education areas.
According to the state Department of Education, any school or combination of schools within a county that meet(s) or exceed(s) a rate of 40 percent directly certified students – i.e. those students who are certified for free meals without a paper application based on their status in foster care, Head Start, homeless, migrant, or in households eligible for SNAP or TANF – are eligible to participate in the CEP.
Listed benefits of CEP, on the W.Va. Department of Education website, include:
- All students receive all meals at no charge
- Paperwork is dramatically reduced
- School meal service is streamlined; meal claiming is simplified
Universal free meals make it easier for schools to implement alternative meal services such as the “grab-and-go” and “breakfast in the classroom.”
A press release from the West Virginia Department of Education states, “West Virginia has benefited greatly from the election of the CEP.” It noted all of West Virginia’s 55 counties have at least one school that qualifies for CEO and that during the 2019-2020 school year, 43 counties have implemented the CEO for all students, meaning all students eat breakfast and lunch for free.
The release also states that, “Ten counties have elected CEP partially; and two counties operate under the traditional method of free and reduced-price meal applications throughout the county.”
“The proposed rule changes are concerning with nearly 1 million individuals estimated to be affected nationally,” said Amanda Harrison, executive director of the WVDE Office of Child Nutrition. “We know that hungry children do not perform at their best and when we meet the nutritional needs of our students, student achievement increases.”