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Are you eligible for the National School Lunch Program?

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By The Staff

Q: Who qualifies for free or reduced lunch in the schools?  How does this program work?

A:  If your family is facing financial difficulties, your children may be eligible for free or reduced-cost meals at school.  With today’s economy, a rising number of students can qualify for meal assistance at school.

Although school budgets may be shrinking, the free meals program has been federally funded since 1946 when President Truman signed the National School Lunch program (NSLP). The purpose of this program is to provide nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. 

The National School Lunch Program offers assistance for students in more than 101,000 public schools, residential child care institutions, and non-profit private schools.  Since 2007, the NSLP has provided low cost and free meals, including breakfast and lunch, to more than 30.5 million children every school day. 

While the NSLP is a federal program, administrators work directly with state agencies who implement the program in their region.  Any schools or districts that take part in NSLP are provided with cash subsidies and donated foods from the United States Department of Agriculture for each meal and snack that is served.  To meet the guidelines of NSLP participating school cafeterias are required to serve meals that meet Federal USDA requirements.

A student is able to receive free or reduced meals if they meet basic guidelines such as:

• A family of four must earn $27,560 or less for free lunches.

• A family must earn a maximum income of $39,220 for reduced cost meals.

In today’s economic climate, more students than ever qualify for free or reduced lunch.  If your family qualifies, speak with your child’s school for the local application, which is typically available in 26 different languages. 

Many times a family will not apply for free or reduced lunches due to embarrassment or other social reasons.  The students enrolled in the NSLP are kept confidential.   Students and staff do not have access to this information.  If a family needs this assistance, it is strongly recommended that the parents apply through the schools immediately.

(Mary Beth Hall is a guidance counselor at Grant County High School.)