The West Virginia Department of Education said students in West Virginia could be at-risk for losing automatic free school meal eligibility.

A news release from the state Department of Education said the Trump administration issue has surfaced due to proposed changes to the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The proposed changes would adjust how students are directly certified to receive services meaning households across the state will lose automatic free or reduced school meals.

The West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services are working closely to quickly and completely analyze the potential impact to West Virginia students during the USDA’s current public comment period.

It is estimated that more than 120,000 West Virginia households could be negatively affected by eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility as a policy in which households may become categorically eligible for SNAP in relation to another benefit, such as non-cash temporary assistance for needy families (TANF).

In addition to the direct impact to these households, funding to West Virginia schools could be negatively affected.

If the number of directly certified students decreases and those students are not captured by another federal direct certification indicator, school districts may have to discontinue implementing the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

Many schools could find that they no longer qualify for CEP or that it is no longer financially viable. As a result, the proposed rule would take away automatic free meals from additional children who otherwise would not be considered as being directly affected by changes to the categorical eligibility in SNAP.

School officials said West Virginia has benefited greatly from the election of the CEP, a federal meal pricing benefit available to areas of high need. All of West Virginia's 55 counties have at least one school that qualifies for CEP.

During the 2019-20 school year, 43 counties have implemented the CEP for all students meaning all students eat breakfast and lunch for free; 10 counties have elected CEP partially, meaning some schools qualify, while other schools in the county do not; and two counties operate under the traditional method of free and reduced price meal applications throughout the county.

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