October 28, 2019

Charleston, W.Va. – Students in West Virginia could be at-risk for losing automatic free school meal eligibility under proposed changes to the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The proposed changes would adjust how students are directly certified to receive services meaning households across the state will lose automatic free or reduced school meals.

The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR) are working closely to quickly and completely analyze the potential impact to West Virginia students during the USDA’s current public comment period.

It is estimated that more than 120,000 West Virginia households could be negatively affected by eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility as a policy in which households may become categorically eligible for SNAP in relation to another benefit, such as non-cash temporary assistance for needy families (TANF). In addition to the direct impact to these households, funding to West Virginia schools could be negatively affected. If the number of directly certified students decreases and those students are not captured by another federal direct certification indicator, school districts may have to discontinue implementing the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Many schools could find that they no longer qualify for CEP or that it is no longer financially viable. Therefore, the proposed rule would take away automatic free meals from additional children who otherwise would not be considered as being directly impacted by changes to the categorical eligibility in SNAP.

West Virginia has benefited greatly from the election of the CEP, a federal meal pricing benefit available to areas of high need. All of West Virginia’s 55 counties have at least one school that qualifies for CEP. During the 2019-20 school year, 43 counties have implemented the CEP for all students meaning all students eat breakfast and lunch for free; 10 counties have elected CEP partially, meaning some schools qualify, while other schools in the county do not; and two counties operate under the traditional method of free and reduced price meal applications throughout the county. Community eligibility uses the number of children directly certified for free school meals, primarily due to participation in SNAP, to determine if a school or district is eligible to implement CEP. The analysis of the proposed changes fails to consider the impacts on community eligibility provision.

“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.”

The WVDE intends to submit comments to the USDA outlining the impact on Mountain State students and will make those comments public. The WVDE’s Office of Child Nutrition is also exploring other mechanisms or indicators that are in place to ensure that our neediest and most vulnerable students are directly certified for school meals.