Eliminating the Reduced Price Category



What is ERP?

ERP, or Eliminate Reduced Price, refers to the policy proposal to collapse the reduced price category for school meals into the free category. This would change the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program from three categories of eligibility (free, reduced and paid) to two categories (free and paid.)

What would happen to students who pay the reduced price fee now?

Students currently in the reduced price category, paying either 40 cents for school lunch or 30 cents for school breakfast, would be eligible for free meals under the ERP proposal.

What is the income criteria for school meals?

Currently students form families with an income that is 130% of poverty or less qualify for free school meals. Students from families with incomes between 130% and 185% of poverty currently qualify for the 40 cent reduced price meal. And student families with a incomes over 185% of poverty pay the full price for a school lunch - set by the local school board.

Why eliminate the reduced priced category?

ERPReports from across the country indicate that too many reduced price families cannot afford 40¢ for each child every day for lunch. This is true as well of the 30¢ co-pay for breakfast.  This is corroborated by evidence that reduced price participation declines towards the end of the month.

Children in the reduced price category come from families that may be classified as the working poor.  These may include welfare to work families who are improving their economic conditions.  However, their income no longer qualifies them for housing, utility or medical assistance, straining minimum wage earnings.

The WIC program provides free benefits to nutritionally at risk women and children to age 5 in households with income at 185% or less of the U.S. poverty income guidelines. Eliminating the reduced price category would make WIC and school meal eligibility guidelines consistent.

Using USDA and SNA estimates, there are about 1 million children in this country who are eligible for reduced price meals who are not participating in the National School Lunch Program. 

The economy is pushing more students into the free category. Many of those in the reduced category cannot afford even this lower meal price of 40 cents. A December 2008 report by SNA showed that 52% of school districts saw an increase in the number of students that owe money to the school nutrition programs as a result of unpaid or overdue accounts. According to school nutrition directors, the students that are most likely to charge meals are from families that are unable to pay $0.40 for reduced price meals

ERP Timeline

  • On July 31, 2003, Senators Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced a bill to gradually raise the eligibility guideline for free school meals from 130% of the national poverty line to 185%, the current limit for eligibility to receive reduced price meals. Fourteen senators signed on as co-sponsors (including Herb Kohl (D WI): 8 Democrats and 6 Republicans.        
  • In 2003-04 over 500 school boards, state boards of education, state and national education groups, and others passed resolutions supporting this proposal.
  • A provision in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 authorized a five state pilot project to test the feasibility of eliminating the reduced price category. Funding is needed through the Appropriations process for this pilot to go forward.
  • While the House Appropriations Committee in May 2005 did not include funding for any new programs (including the pilot program) in their agriculture appropriations bill, they did add report language expressing strong support for the elimination of the reduced price category. 
  • Washington State eliminated the 30 cent reduced price co-pay for breakfast in FY2006. Reports from area school districts indicate that the number of reduced price students eating school breakfasts is increasing dramatically over last year at the same time.  Seattle School District showed a 90% increase, and Olympia School District’s increase is 123%.  Royal School District near Moses Lake showed a six-fold increase. Colorado has since also eliminated the reduced price category for school breakfast.
  • A 2006  SNA survey found that 19% of the respondents had eliminated reduced price at some point for SBP, these directors saw an average increase in participation at Breakfast of 44%. Additionally, 8% of directors has eliminated reduced category at Lunch and saw an average increase in participation of 31%.
  • In 2007 Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) introduced a bill in Congress that would fund the ERP pilot project. Over 50 co-sponsors signed on to the bill.  
  • In 2008 House Education and Labor Committee Chair George Miller (D-CA) requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct research to determine the effect of eliminating the reduced price category. The GAO report is due out in summer 2009.
  • The School Nutrition Association is advocating for the elimination of the reduced price (ERP) as part of child nutrition reauthorization process in 2009.



2009 Legislative Issue Paper  





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