Income guidelines set for free and reduced-price school meals

The Illinois State Board of Education established its policy for free and reduced-price lunch, breakfast and after-school snacks for those students unable to pay the full price for meals and snacks under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The policy, effective at the start of the fiscal year July 1, sets the guidelines for schools as they prepare to welcome back students to the classroom. 

From 2003 to 2012, students eligible for free or reduced priced lunch increased from 42.7 percent to 53.6 percent, meaning about 1 million students in Illinois public and private schools now qualify for a free or reduced lunch.

Children whose household income is 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline qualify for free meals, and children whose household income is 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline qualify for reduced-price meals.

For example, a child in a two-person household with an annual income of $20,163 or less qualifies for free meals; an annual household income of $28,694 or less qualifies for reduced-price meals. For a family of four, the income guidelines are $30,615 and $43,568; for a family of six, the guidelines are $41,067 and $58,442.

All meals served must meet the U. S. Department of Agriculture meal requirements. If a child is prescribed by a doctor a diet that prevents him or her from eating the regular school meal, the school will make a substitution at no additional cost to the family.

Application forms are available in the principal’s office in each school. To apply for free or reduced-price meal services, households must complete the application as soon as possible, sign it, and return it to the school. An application which does not contain all the required information cannot be processed and approved.

Households receiving SNAP/TANF benefits do not have to complete the full application if they received a letter from the school stating that children are eligible for free meals through direct certification. Those households need only list the child or children’s names and at least one SNAP or TANF case number and sign the application. LINK card numbers cannot be used to apply for free or reduced-price meals.

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) participants may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals and are encouraged to complete an application. Homeless, migrant, runaway youth, Head Start and foster care children are categorically eligible for free meals. Follow instructions and return form to school.

Households may apply for benefits at any time during the school year. Households that are not eligible now but have a decrease in household income, an increase in household size, or a household member becomes unemployed, should fill out an application at that time.

The information on the application may be checked by school or other officials at any time during the school year. Households that do not agree with the ruling of the official may wish to discuss it with the school. Households also have the right to a fair hearing.

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