Income eligibility guidelines updated for school lunches

Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services updates income eligibility guidelines for meals served at schools and day care programs, based on federal poverty levels.

The guidelines apply to student eligibility for free and reduced-price school meals offered through the National School Lunch or School Breakfast programs and milk offered through the Special Milk Program as well as to reimbursement for meals served in day care centers and family child care homes participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals and milk. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals.

About 49 percent of all students in Michigan K-12 schools were eligible for free or reduced lunches in 2013-14. Of these eligible students, about 70 percent participated in the free or reduced lunch programs.

The new guidelines establish that students in a household of four with income of $31,005 per year or less qualify for free school meals. If that family’s income is between $31,005 and $44,123, children can receive reduced-price meals. Both guidelines are up about 1.27 percent over the previous year.

The income guidelines are effective through June 30, 2015.

“With these adjustments, more people qualify for free and reduced-priced meals than the previous year,” said Michigan’s State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. “These are federally reimbursable meals that provide nutrition to children in need.”

“Students and children are learning all the time, but hunger ought not to be part of the equation,” said Wisconsin’s State Superintendent Tony Evers. “The federal income guidelines are designed to support students and children from low-income families so they are fed and can be eager and attentive learners throughout the day.”

Income eligibility guidelines for other household sizes are as follows: household of two, $20,449 for free meals and up to $29,101 for reduced-price; household of three, $25,727 for free meals and up to $36,612 for reduced-price; household of five, $36,283 for free and $51,634 for reduced; household of six, $41,561 for free and $59,145 for reduced. For each additional household member, add $5,278 for free meals and $7,511 for reduced.

The goal of both school-based and child care food programs is to improve the diets of students and young children and increase the opportunity for them to eat a variety of nutritious foods. The meals and snacks served meet nutrition standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Participating schools, child care centers, adult day care centers, and family day care home sponsors accept applications for free or reduced price meals throughout the year. A household may qualify for free or reduced price meals due to a temporary loss of income, such as a period of unemployment. Applications for free and reduced-price school meals are typically provided during registration and in the beginning weeks of the school year.

If a doctor determines that a child or adult has a disability, and the disability prevents the participant from eating the regular school or center meal, the school or center makes any substitution prescribed by a doctor at no charge. The doctor’s statement, including prescribed diet or substitution, must be submitted to the food service department of the school or child or adult care facility.