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Popular School Food Program for Many Maine Schools Under Threat

A bill being debated in Congress could reduce access to school lunch programs for more than 10,000 students in Maine. (USDA)
A bill being debated in Congress could reduce access to school lunch programs for more than 10,000 students in Maine. (USDA)
July 19, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine - A bill in Congress could cut a program Maine has used to dramatically increase the number of students eating breakfast and lunch at school. Community Eligibility lets schools in high-poverty areas make meals available to all, without individual eligibility paperwork.

Supporters say it means more poor kids eat, which leads to better test scores and fewer discipline problems. But Zoe Neuberger senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said part of House Bill 5003 would knock thousands of school kids in Maine out of the program.

"Maine has 40 schools that would be affected by the House legislation that serve 13,000 students; and about 100 more schools that would lose Community Eligibility," she said.

The bill's sponsor argues Community Eligibility is too generous now, and the government could save money by narrowing it. The program's supporters counter that much of the savings would be eaten up by the additional paperwork.

Neuberger said the impact will be far greater nationwide with thousands of schools getting shut out.

"Seven thousand of the schools that are already using Community Eligibility would no longer be able to use it, and there are another 11,000 or so schools that are eligible now, that would lose their eligibility," she added.

Community Eligibility has only been in place since the 2014-2015 school year, but has spread very quickly and is popular, both with parents and educators. Neuberger said the Senate version of the bill doesn't have the same provision.

"The Senate bill does not include the change to Community Eligibility, and we know that the administration doesn't support that change either," she said.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME