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CPP Eligibility Factor - Child Is Eligible To Receive Free or Reduced Meals

Clarification of Eligibility Factor

The child is eligible to receive free or reduced-cost meals pursuant to the provision of the Federal “National School Lunch Act”, 42 U.S.C. sec. 1751 et seq. (C.R.S.22-28-106 (1) (a.5) (I)).

Many social services that families may use also determine eligibility through income requirements. The Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is the most widely used standardized measure.

  • “Free and reduced meals,” for example, uses measures of 135% FPL and 185% FPL, respectively. Therefore, it is not necessary to define and/or qualify a child under additional income-related eligibility factors (such as eligible/receiving WIC, TANF, Food Stamps, and Medicaid) as free and reduced lunch encompasses the broader category of “low income” and “facing economic hardship.”

How It May Be Documented

  • Family is Eligible for Head Start based on documented income
  • Free and Reduced Meal forms completed for child/or family.
    • Schools may not require households to complete and submit an application. It is the household’s choice to complete and submit an application for meal benefits. However, LEAs must inform households that they may receive meal benefits if they are eligible (USDA Food and Nutrition Services Child Nutrition Program, Eligibility Manual for School Meals, 2017).
  • Family Economic Data Survey (FEDS) completed for the child and/or family. The survey may be used in place of the free and reduced meal form.
    • The FEDS should be used for students attending schools and/or districts: (1) not participating in the child nutrition programs and/or (2) participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) (including the base year), or Provision 2 program (following the base ear). If a student is identified as free lunch eligible through the completion of a FEDS form, the student may be reported as such in the district’s Student October Count data submission. The district must ensure the form is filled out correctly and completely, as well as accurately processed by the district (CDE, 2019 At-Risk/Freee Lunch Count Audit Resource Guide, 2019).

Please note: If preschoolers do not have access to school meals (site is not participating), they should not complete an application unless they have a sibling who does have access to school meals. The Family Economic Data Survey (FEDS) would need to be completed for any schools or grades that do not participate in the school nutrition programs. 

Significance of Factor in Regards to School Readiness

  • The free and reduced meal rate is a proxy for poverty because it is linked to a family’s income and family size. Low-income children start school behind their more advantaged peers, and research shows that this achievement gap continues throughout the school years.
  • Poverty is particularly detrimental to children and impacts overall healthy development. Low-income children have smaller vocabularies and are less likely to know their letters and numbers. Young children from low-income families score lower on tests of early learning and math. They are also more likely to face social and economic problems later in life, including illiteracy, teen pregnancy, high dropout rates, and unemployment.
  • Children’s social competence and ability to self-regulate are also linked to income; children from lower-income families have lower reported levels in these skills.
  • Brain development research shows a sensitive period from prenatal through the first few years of life when the brain is most able to respond to and grow from environmental stimulation. Children in poverty are disproportionately exposed to risk factors that negatively influence brain development.

Additional Resources


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