Low-income students in Minnesota should have a much easier time obtaining free meals at school next year.

In addition to new state funding to help pay for school lunches for poor students, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday announced that school districts across the country will be eligible to take advantage of a provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that allows poor schools to offer free meals to all of its students without requiring individual families to apply for eligibility.

In Minnesota, 39 school districts are eligible to participate for all schools in their district. USDA officials estimate that about 138 schools could benefit, or about 57,300 students.

“The Community Eligibility Provision provides more eligible children with access to the healthy school meals offered through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, while streamlining paperwork for parents and schools,” said FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe.  “We’ve seen this approach succeed in reaching at-risk children in 10 other states and the District of Columbia, and now schools in low-income areas across the country will have a new opportunity to feed their students breakfast and lunch at no charge to families.”

School districts that want to implement the Community Eligibility provision in the 2014-2015 school year must decide by June 30. A school can qualify if at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free meals because the participate in another assistance program.

In school districts with high concentrations of low-income household, the entire district may qualify for the federal provision. Individual schools or groups of schools can also qualify.