CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state’s high percentage of schoolkids who receive free meals could be threatened with changes being considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.USDA has proposed changing its direct certification process involving SNAP benefits.

WVDOE

Amanda Harrison

Currently, if a child’s family receives food stamps it automatically makes them eligible for free meals at school. The change would require those families to sign-up separately for the school meal program.

West Virginia Department of Education Office of Child Nutrition Executive Director Amanda Harrison said Monday the department and state DHHR are concerned the change could result in kids going hungry. They believe 120,000 households could be negatively affected.

“Now you have to fill-out this. It’s an extra step. It’s an extra hoop. It’s just a really unfortunate mechanism by which we would make a household have to prove they need some assistance,” she said.

MORE see 2020 CEP counties here

Harrison and others are also concerned about how the change would impact what’s called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) that has allowed 43 counties in West Virginia to provide free meals to all students no matter the income levels of their families. CEP is a federal meal pricing benefit available to areas of high need.

Harrison said it’s the ripple effect that’s concerning.

“It’s convenient for USDA to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to make these changes but the households can still apply for free or reduced priced meals,” that’s true but the basis for how the formula works through CEP–it starts with the foundation for how many students we directly certify,” Harrison said.

The elimination of direct certification via SNAP would likely reduce the state’s numbers and eliminate some counties from CEP certification.

“So it could impact students who are not directly receiving (SNAP) benefits themselves but attend school in a county that fall under that CEP model,” Harrison said.

MORE WV free school meal data 

The state Department of Education and DHHR are analyzing the numbers and hope to include the possible number of children impacted when the state files its response during USDA’s public comment period on the proposed changes that ends this Friday, Nov. 1. As of Monday morning, the USDA proposal had received 156,000 comments from across the nation.

West Virginia is unique in its position in maximizing CEP, Harrison said.

“Other states would be impacted but I would argue the state of West Virginia will be impacted perhaps the most harshly because we have such widespread coverage of CEP,” Harrison said.

The USDA is proposing the changes to close what it considers to be loopholes and gaps in the SNAP program.

“Those arguments kind of fall flat when folks are hungry,” Harrison said.