Student Eligibility to Receive Free or Reduced Price School Meals

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Learn More About Food Security

Measures of Food Security on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org provides the following indicators related to food security:
Additionally, the following measures, from the California Dept. of Education, also are available:
  • The number and percentage of public school students ages 5-17 who are eligible to receive free or reduced price school meals, overall and by eligibility status—i.e., those who are eligible for free meals, eligible for reduced price meals, and those who are not eligible; a child's family income must fall below 130% of its federal poverty guideline to qualify for free meals (e.g., $32,630 for a family of four in 2018-19), or below 185% of its federal poverty guideline to qualify for reduced price meals (e.g., $46,435 for a family of four in 2018-19)

*According to CDSS, more than half of all CalFresh participants are children.
Food Security
Family Income and Poverty
Childhood Adversity and Resilience
Nutrition
Why This Topic Is Important
Almost one in five California children live in households with limited or uncertain access to adequate food (1). California consistently has a higher percentage of children living in food-insecure households than the U.S. overall (1). Food-insecure children are more likely to experience a host of health problems, including developmental, cognitive, behavioral, and mental health issues (2). Among pregnant women, food insecurity is associated with negative physical and mental health outcomes, as well as pregnancy complications (2). Children and communities of color are disproportionately affected by food insecurity (2).

Food assistance programs, such as food stamps (i.e., the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or CalFresh in California) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provide a safety net to help ensure that low-income children, expectant mothers, and families get adequate nutrition. These programs have been shown to alleviate poverty, reduce adverse birth outcomes, and improve children's health in general (3, 4).
For more information on food security, please see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section. Also see kidsdata.org’s other topics related to Family Economics.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  As cited on kidsdata.org, Children living in food insecure households. (2019). Feeding America.

2.  California Department of Public Health, Office of Health Equity. (2015). Portrait of promise: The California statewide plan to promote health and mental health equity. Retrieved from: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/OHE/CDPH Document Library/Accessible-CDPH_OHE_Disparity_Report_Final (2).pdf

3.  Gundersen, C. (2015). Food assistance programs and child health. The Future of Children, 25(1), 91-109. Retrieved from: https://futureofchildren.princeton.edu/sites/futureofchildren/files/media/policies_to_promote_child_health_25_full_journal.pdf

4.  Rossin-Slater, M. (2015). Promoting health in early childhood. The Future of Children, 25(1), 35-64. Retrieved from: https://futureofchildren.princeton.edu/sites/futureofchildren/files/media/policies_to_promote_child_health_25_full_journal.pdf
How Children Are Faring
According to 2017 estimates, 18% of California children (more than 1.6 million) lived in households with uncertain or inadequate access to food, down from 27% (nearly 2.5 million children) in 2011. At the local level, the share of children living in food insecure households ranged from 13% to 30% across counties and congressional districts. Although the percentage of food-insecure children has been on the decline statewide and nationally since 2011, California rates consistent exceed those for the U.S. overall.

In January 2018, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program healthy food vouchers were redeemed for 951,990 children and perinatal women statewide, a drop of more than 30% compared with 2010. Across all years for which data are available, the majority of WIC's California participants were children ages 1-5 (548,127 in 2018), followed by infants (190,902 in 2018) and prenatal mothers (83,717 in 2018).

The CalFresh (Food Stamps) supplemental nutrition program served almost 4 million California children and adults in 1.9 million households in July 2018—more than double the number of participants served in 2000. From 2008 through 2018, Hispanic/Latino and white households together accounted for around three-quarters of participating households statewide.
More than 59% of public school students in California were eligible for free or reduced price school meals in 2019, meaning their family incomes were below 185% of federal poverty guidelines (e.g., less than $46,435 for a family of four). This equates to over 3.5 million low-income students statewide, compared with less than 3.2 million (51%) in 2007. The percentage of students eligible for free/reduced price meals in 2019 ranged from 28% to 79% across counties, and from 2% to 100% across school districts with data. Many more students are eligible for free meals than for reduced price meals. In 2019, over 3 million California students (52%) were eligible for free meals, while fewer than 500,000 (7%) were eligible for reduced price meals.
Policy Implications
Food insecurity—a lack of consistent, dependable access to enough food for healthy living—is a major public health problem in California and the U.S., affecting millions of children and families (1, 2). Policymakers can help by supporting efforts to ameliorate poverty, preserve and strengthen food assistance programs, and expand access to nutritious, affordable foods in low-income communities (2).

Food and nutrition assistance programs address food insecurity by helping low-income children and families access nutritious and affordable meals. However, many eligible families are not receiving this assistance (3, 4). For example, it is estimated that about half of all California children are eligible for CalFresh (food stamps), though only one-quarter participate in the program (3).

Policy and program options that could improve food security include:
  • Continuing to address under-enrollment in food assistance programs—such as CalFresh and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program—by improving public awareness and perceptions of the programs, and increasing integration and coordination across nutrition and other safety net programs, which could help streamline enrollment and service delivery (3)
  • Promoting robust school and summer nutrition programs, which provide low-income children with access to healthy food before, during, and after school, as well as during the summer months; as part of this, continuing efforts to make it simpler and less stigmatizing for children to receive these meals (4, 5, 6)
  • Supporting the work of food councils and community groups that are promoting access to sustainable, affordable, and nutritious food sources through efforts such as community and home gardens, farmers markets, urban agriculture, and public education (2)
  • Maintaining, strengthening, and building on state and local policies aimed at reducing poverty among working families in California, including the CalWORKs program, Earned Income Tax Credit, and minimum wage standards (7)
For more policy recommendations and research on this topic, see kidsdata.org's Research & Links section or visit California Food Policy Advocates and Food Research and Action Center. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Nutrition and other topics related to Family Economics.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Coleman-Jensen, A., et al. (2019). Household food security in the United States in 2018. (Economic Research Report No. 270). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=94848

2.  California Department of Public Health, Office of Health Equity. (2015). Portrait of promise: The California statewide plan to promote health and mental health equity. Retrieved from: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/OHE/CDPH Document Library/Accessible-CDPH_OHE_Disparity_Report_Final (2).pdf

3.  Danielson, C., & Bohn, S. (2016). Improving California children's participation in nutrition programs. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from: https://www.ppic.org/publication/improving-california-childrens-participation-in-nutrition-programs

4.  California Food Policy Advocates. (2017). School meal access and participation: California statewide summary 2015-16. Retrieved from: https://cfpa.net/school-meal-analysis-2015-16

5.  Fischer Colby, A. (2017). School's out...Who ate? A report on summer nutrition in California. California Food Policy Advocates. Retrieved from: https://cfpa.net/sowa-2017

6.  California Food Policy Advocates. (2018). After school programs and meals: Opportunities to support working families in California. Retrieved from: https://cfpa.net/ChildNutrition/AfterSchool/CFPAPublications/AfterSchoolMeals-Brief-2018.pdf

7.  Danielson, C. (2019). California's future: Social safety net. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from: https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-future-social-safety-net
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Food Security