For the first time ever Boston Public School (BPS) students, regardless of their income status, will receive a free breakfast and lunch during the 2013/2014 school year that begins today (Wednesday).
Boston now becomes one of the largest cities in the nation to join “Community Eligibility Option”. The program waives meal fees for all children regardless of income status and is also being implemented in cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and parts of New York City.
The program aims at serving healthy meals to more children while saving families money. In Boston savings could be as high as $450 during the school year.
“Every child has a right to healthy, nutritious meals in school, and when we saw a chance to offer these healthy meals at no cost to them, we jumped at the chance,” said Mayor Thomas Menino. “This takes the burden of proof off our low-income families and allows all children, regardless of income, to know healthy meals are waiting for them at school every day.”
Over the summer BPS and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education joined the Community Eligibility Option program, currently available in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
“Children can focus on learning when they are well-fed, and families can focus on education when they don’t have to budget for school meals every week,” said BPS Interim Superintendent John McDonough. “This program makes sense for students. We expect that every major city will join this national program in the next few years – and we are able to put Boston’s families at the forefront.”
Already, 78 percent of BPS students qualify for free- or reduced-price meals due to their income status. Many of those who do not qualify fall just beyond income limits. Previously, families had to fill out and return forms to qualify for the meals program.
By entering into the Community Eligibility Option, BPS can waive all meal charges for all students. Parents do not need to take any action to participate. Students can continue to purchase extra food items, such as snacks, for a fee.
“I think its great,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “East Boston is a working class neighborhood where many families rely on BPS for quality education and nutrition. Sadly, many families do not qualify for free breakfast or lunch but still find it hard to afford the added cost. This program will bridge that gap.”
Michael Peck, director of BPS Food and Nutrition Services said BPS moved quickly to advocate for the ability to participate in the program.
“(We) are glad to be one of the first major cities to participate,” said Peck. “It is truly a win-win for our students and our city.”
Last year, BPS launched a universal breakfast program that waived charges for all students for morning meals. This meant that families who did not previously qualify for free-or-reduced price meals saved approximately $230 per child.
The Community Eligibility Option means families will now save an additional $405 to $455 per child per year. The cost of lunch was previously $2.25 for elementary students and $2.50 for middle and high school students.
In total, the lunch charges alone added up to approximately $943,000 per year for families through reduced- or full-price meals last school year. However, BPS only collected about $585,000 of this total due to allowances for individual hardships or other situations.
Under the new program, federal meal reimbursements to BPS are expected to increase. This means that, even though the District would not collect money from students at cash registers, total meal revenue would increase by approximately $2.7 million per year.
“Community Eligibility is a great new option that helps low-income children have better access to healthy school meals and helps schools reduce administrative burdens,” said Jim Weill, President of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). “Boston Public Schools has been a leader in the effort to increase participation in school meals, and FRAC applauds the City for quickly embracing this opportunity which will benefit every BPS student.”