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August 6, 2014

More Michigan families may qualify for reduced or free school lunches

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — More Michigan families will be able to take advantage of free and reduced price school meals program this year.

The Michigan Department of Education recently announced that new household income guidelines used to determine eligibility for free and reduced-price school meals for the 2014-15 school year have been established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Every year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts out new income guidelines for the free and reduced priced meal programs based on the federal poverty levels for household incomes,” said Bill DiSessa, a spokesperson for MDE.

Effective through June 30, 2015, the new income guidelines apply to free and reduced-price meals and free milk available through the federally funded National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk, and Child and Adult Care Food Programs. The meal entitlement programs are available to public and nonprofit private schools, and residential child care institutions. Families should contact their school, school district, child care center or family day care home sponsor to find out whether it participates in the programs.

Under the updated guidelines, 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, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. According to the National School Lunch Program, a reduced meal is a lunch priced at 40 cents or less, an after-school snack priced at 15 cents or less, and a breakfast at 30 cents or less.

This year, a family of four can earn $31,005 and still qualify for free meals or free milk, under the new criteria. The income limit for reduced-priced meals for a family of four has been set at $44,123. The increases are $390 and $554, respectively, up 1.27 percent from last year’s levels.

For a family of two, the new income limit for free lunches or free milk is $20,449. A family of three may earn $25,727, and the limit for a family of five is $36,283. The income limits are $47,561 for a family of six; $56, 839 for a family of seven; and $52, 117 for a family of eight.

The limit for reduced-price meals is $29,101 for a family of two; $36,612 for a family of three; $51,634 for a family of five; $59,145 for a family of six; $66, 656 for a family of seven; and $74,167 for a family of eight.

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

Those who automatically qualifying for free meals include adults, children and foster children who are enrolled in programs or facilities such as the Michigan’s Family Independence Program, Food Assistance Program, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, Head Start, an at-risk afterschool center, or an emergency shelter.

The National School Lunch Program operates in more than 100,000 schools nationwide and provides low-cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day.

In Michigan, about 49 percent of all students in K-12 schools qualified for free or reduced lunches last year, and of the eligible students, about 70 percent actually participated in the free or reduced lunch programs.

“There are quite a few students who are eligible who are not participating, so there is room for some growth there because these are very, very beneficial programs,” DiSessa added. “These are great programs because these are nutritious meals that students get — depending on family income — either for free or at a reduced price. These are meals that are based on federal nutrition guidelines, so these are very, very nutritious, healthy meals. Of course, those are very, very important to a child’s overall health, well-being and education, to get healthy meals.”

Eligible families are asked to contact their local schools, child care centers, adult day care centers and family day care home sponsors for a form to apply for free or reduced-price meals. Only one application is required per household, and applications are accepted throughout the year — such as in the event of a temporary loss of income, like a period of unemployment.

In the Rochester Community Schools district, the application packet can be found at https://www.rochester.k12.mi.us, by clicking the “Food Services” link under the “District Info” tab.

For more information on the MDE’s involvement in the National School Lunch program, visit www.michigan.gov/schoolnutrition.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at malmond@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1060.