Student Eligibility to Receive Free or Reduced Price School Meals
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Butte County
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Colusa County
Contra Costa County
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Fresno County
Glenn County
Humboldt County
Imperial County
Inyo County
Kern County
Kings County
Lake County
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Madera County
Marin County
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Trinity County
Tulare County
Tuolumne County
Ventura County
Yolo County
Yuba County
Alameda County
Alpine County
Amador County
Butte County
Calaveras County
Colusa County
Contra Costa County
Del Norte County
El Dorado County
Fresno County
Glenn County
Humboldt County
Imperial County
Inyo County
Kern County
Kings County
Lake County
Lassen County
Los Angeles County
Madera County
Marin County
Mariposa County
Mendocino County
Merced County
Modoc County
Mono County
Monterey County
Napa County
Nevada County
Orange County
Placer County
Plumas County
Riverside County
Sacramento County
San Benito County
San Bernardino County
San Diego County
San Francisco County
San Joaquin County
San Luis Obispo County
San Mateo County
Santa Barbara County
Santa Clara County
Santa Cruz County
Shasta County
Sierra County
Siskiyou County
Solano County
Sonoma County
Stanislaus County
Sutter County
Tehama County
Trinity County
Tulare County
Tuolumne County
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Yolo County
Yuba County
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Learn More About Food Security

Measures of Food Security on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org provides the following indicators of food security:
A child's family income must fall below 130% of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,965 for a family of four in 2012-2013) to qualify for free meals, or below 185% of the federal poverty guidelines ($42,643 for a family of four in 2012-2013) to qualify for reduced-cost meals.
Food Security
Demographics
Family Income and Poverty
Homelessness
Housing Affordability
Nutrition
Why This Topic Is Important
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as not having consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living (1). According to 2013 estimates, children and adults were food insecure at some time during the year in 10% percent of households with children. This translates to an estimated 3.8 million households that were unable to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children (1). Free or reduced price school meal (FRPM) and Food Stamp programs (e.g., CalFresh), among others, provide a safety net to help ensure that low-income children get adequate nutrition (1). These programs help to address food insecurity among low-income children, and are related to improvements in students’ physical health (including obesity), behavior, school performance, and cognitive development (2, 3, 4).

Student eligibility for FRPM serves as a proxy measure of family poverty, as the federal poverty threshold tends to underestimate the extent of poverty, particularly in high cost areas. Research indicates that families in California can earn two or more times the federal poverty level and still struggle to meet their basic needs (5). Income eligibility for FRPM programs goes up to 185% of federal poverty (about $43,000 for a family of four in 2012-2013).

For more information on Free/Reduced Price School Meals, please see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section. Also see kidsdata.org’s other topics related to family economics.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Coleman-Jensen, A., et al. (2014). Household food security in the United States in 2013. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Accessed at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1565415/err173.pdf

2.  Food Research and Action Center. (2013). SNAP and public health: The role of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in improving the health and well-being of Americans. Retrieved from: http://frac.org/pdf/snap_and_public_health_2013.pdf 

3.  Gundersen, C., et al. (2012). The impact of the National School Lunch Program on child health: A nonparametric bounds analysis. Journal of Econometrics, 166(1), 79-91. Retrieved from: http://people.virginia.edu/~jvp3m/abstracts/SchoolLunch.pdf 

4.  Food Research & Action Center. (n.d.). FRAC Facts: National School Lunch Program. Retrieved from: http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/cnnslp.pdf

5.  As cited on kidsdata.org, California family economic Self-Sufficiency Standard. Insight Center for Community Economic Development and Dr. Diana Pearce, Center for Women's Welfare, School of Social Work, University of Washington. Retrieved from: http://www.insightcced.org/communities/cfess/ca-sss.html

How Children Are Faring
Nearly 60% of all public school students in California are eligible for free or reduced price school meals (meaning their household incomes are less than about $43,000 for a family of four), according to 2013 data. This equates to just over 3.5 million low-income students statewide, an increase from about 3.2 million (51%) in 2007. County and school district data show increases, as well; between 2007 and 2013, percentages rose in almost all counties and in about 80% of school districts with available data. At the county level, the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced price meals ranged from 27% to 79% in 2013. Many more students are eligible for free meals than for reduced price meals. In 2013, almost 3 million students (50% of all students) were eligible for free meals, while just over 500,000 (9%) were eligible for reduced price meals.

In 2014, almost 4.5 million Californians participated in the CalFresh supplemental food program, formerly known as Food Stamps. Latino and white households represented the majority of CalFresh recipients in 2014, accounting for more than 75% of the approximately 2 million total households receiving assistance. 

In 2012, almost 2.5 million California children (26% of the child population) lived in "food insecure" households with uncertain or inadequate access to food.
Policy Implications
Food and nutrition assistance programs have the potential to increase food security and provide low-income children with nutritious and affordable meals (1). However, these programs are not used by many children who are eligible. In California public schools, 30 percent of the state’s 3.5 million low-income students miss out on free or reduced price school lunch, and 65 percent miss out on school breakfast (2).

According to research and subject experts, policy-related actions that could improve nutrition assistance participation, and the quality of the meals themselves, include:
  • Utilizing authority under state law and the federal Child Nutrition Act to make it simpler and less stigmatizing for students to access free and reduced-price school meals, while streamlining administration at the school level; this includes “direct certification,” which allows school districts to automatically qualify children in families receiving CalWORKS or CalFresh for free school meals (3, 4)
  • Adopting school district-wide use of effective service models such as Classroom Breakfast, Second Chance Breakfast, and Grab n’ Go (different approaches to serving breakfast during the school day, in class, or outside of traditional settings) to increase participation and decrease stigma associated with subsidized breakfast (4)
  • Ensuring the availability of nutritious, appealing foods at school meals without competition from less healthful foods, thereby supporting healthy dietary habits (5)
  • Making healthful snacks available and affordable in schools, which can lead to students’ increased consumption of fruits and vegetables (6).
For more policy recommendations and research on this topic, see the kidsdata.org's Research & Links section or visit California Food Policy Advocates, the Food Research & Action Center, and Action for Healthy Kids. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Family Income & Poverty, and Nutrition/Breakfast.

Sources for this narrative: 

1.  Food Research and Action Center. (2013). SNAP and public health: The role of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in improving the health and well-being of Americans. Retrieved from: http://frac.org/pdf/snap_and_public_health_2013.pdf 

2.  California Food Policy Advocates. (2014). School meals analysis 2012-13. Retrieved from: http://cfpa.net/school-meal-analysis-2012-13

3.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2013). Direct certification in the national school lunch program: State implementation progress, school year 2012-2013. Report to congress. Retrieved from: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/NSLPDirectCertification2013.pdf 

4.  111th Congress. (2010). 
Healthy, hunger-free kids act of 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-3307

5.  Crawford, P., et al. (2011). The ethical basis for promoting nutritional health in public schools in the United States.
Preventing Chronic Disease 8(5), 98. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181198/

6.  
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2013). Smart snacks in school. Retrieved from: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/allfoods_infographic.pdf

Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Food Security