TUSD expands free breakfast & lunch program for all students across 87 schools

All students enrolled at schools in Tucson Unified School District can receive free breakfast and lunches without submitting any paperwork, an effort backed by a federal program.

The district can provide free meals to all students across 87 schools under an expansion of the Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program. Previously, TUSD students could ask for free and reduced-priced meals,
but under the new program, household applications are no longer
required, said Lindsay Aguilar, the district’s director of food services.

Operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program allows the
nation’s “highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and
lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household
applications.”

Schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed by USDA based on the number of
students eligible for free meals based on other programs, including the
federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamps”) and
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

40,235 schools
spread across 6,419 school districts currently participate in the
program, according to the Food and Research Action Center. Around 19.9
million children attend schools eligible for the program.

In
Arizona, roughly 500 schools adopted the program, including TUSD’s
schools, as well as several schools in the Amphitheater School District.

“Being able to expand CEP from our current 60 CEP schools to all 87
schools will have a tremendous impact on our efforts to address food
insecurity and equitable access to school meals within our community,” Aguilar said. “This eliminates meal debt moving forward for our district and allows us
to provide meals as part of the school day to all students. Breakfast
and lunch at no cost through CEP is now just like textbooks or
technology devices that we provide to all students as part of the
learning environment.”

Under the Biden administration, USDA changed its eligibility rules for schools, lowering the minimum number of students on federal programs needed to access CEP from 40 percent of students to 25 percent. 

The moves comes as costs for free and reduced-price meals climbed nearly 40 percent over the last decade in Arizona, according to FRAC. 

Last year, USDA reported around 33.8 million people in the U.S. lived in households that struggled to get enough food for everyone in 2021, and this rose through 2022 to include 44.2 million people. This includes more than 13 million children in 2022, up nearly 45 percent from 2021.

The data shows that families in rural areas were more likely to face food insecurity, and the southern U.S. experienced higher levels of food insecurity than the rest of the U.S.