By Patricia Jones, Task Force on Poverty
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service branch administers fifteen programs to increase food security and reduce hunger by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education. These include the National School Lunch Program and the National Breakfast Program. In 2018, schools served over 4.8 billion lunches to children nationwide.
Free or reduced price school meals are one of the best ways low income families receive assistance for their children. Schools send school meal applications home at the beginning of each school year, which are then reviewed by school officials before granting free or reduced price benefits.
If you receive SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps), or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) all of your children who attend school automatically qualify for free school meals. If you are eligible for unemployment compensation or WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) food assistance, you may be eligible for free or reduced price school meals.
Households where the wage earners work part-time or in low-wage jobs may also qualify. For a family of four, the annual limit is $48,470, or $933 per week; if your household income is below this amount, you would qualify for free or reduced school meals. The chart for all household sizes is on the application available on your school’s web page. If your household qualifies, please sign up! These applications not only affect the meal programs, but other tax receipts for the school as well.
Any child at a participating school may purchase a nutritious meal through the National School Lunch Program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals.
A typical school lunch menu includes a main dish with meat or cheese, a vegetable or fruit, a grain/bread, and milk; sometimes the main dish incorporates some of the other requirements. Lunch prices at APS are free, 40¢ for reduced, $3.25 - $3.75 for full price based on grade level. All students in the Alliance Public Schools code in their lunch id numbers so no one knows who receives free or reduced meals.
Alliance and Hemingford Public Schools also serve breakfast daily. This meal includes a main dish like a breakfast burrito or waffles, with a cereal option every day. The cost in Alliance may be free, 30¢ for reduced, or $1.75 to $2.25 for full price based on grade level.
St. Agnes Academy participates in the USDA lunch program, and 11% of their students qualify for free or reduced meals. The Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran School does not participate.
How many of our public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch? In Alliance Public Schools, 55.6% of the students qualify. The rate for Hemingford Public Schools is 35.9%. In Nebraska, 45% were eligible for economic assistance provided through the federal school lunch program last year.
Families have to fill out applications for free and reduced lunches each year; this must be completed by September 24, 2020. The application information can be as simple as your children’s name and your SNAP or TANF number and your signature. Households may apply for school meals any time during the school year if their income changes. At APS you also have the option of requesting inclusion in the Backpack Program or a waiver on insurance for the 1:1 computer program if you qualify for free/reduced lunch.
Since children are the group hardest hit by poverty in America, the National School Lunch Program and the National Breakfast Program makes a tremendous difference.