Income Eligibility Guidelines for Free and Reduced-Price School Meals

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Income Eligibility Guidelines for Free and Reduced-Price School Meals


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The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has announced revised Income Eligibility Guidelines for free and reduced-price school meals. The guidelines are set by the federal government and adopted by MSDE. They are used to determine whether children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals for the period July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) annual adjustments to the Income Eligibility Guidelines (IEG) are required by Section 9 of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. The guidelines are intended to directly benefit those children most in need. They are revised annually to account for changes in the Consumer Price Index. The free and reduced-price guidelines were obtained by multiplying the 2011 federal income poverty guidelines by 130 percent and 185 percent, respectively, and by rounding the result upward to the next whole dollar.

Household size and income is the most common way to determine eligibility. For example, a child from a family of four is eligible for free school meals if the household’s current income is below $29,055. If the family’s income is between $29,055 and $41,348, the child is eligible for reduced-price meals.

Meal Benefit Applications will be sent home from school at the beginning of the school year. U.S. citizenship is not required to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Parents/guardians should fill out the application completely and send it back to the school. Schools cannot approve incomplete applications.

The school will let parents/guardians know whether their children qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Households may speak with school officials if they disagree with the school’s decision or they may appeal the decision and request a fair hearing.

Children enrolled in a Head Start program, children certified as homeless or migrant, foster children, and children living in households that receive benefits from the Food Supplement Program (FSP–formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) or Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) are eligible for free meals and do not need to fill out an application. Some FSP and TCA households will receive a letter from the school informing them that their children are eligible for free meals. FSP and TCA households that do not receive a letter by the beginning of the school year should fill out an application. Other children that may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals include runaways and children in households participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Parents/guardians of these children should complete an application.

Parents/guardians may reapply at any time during the school year and are encouraged to do so if their household size goes up, they lose their job, their income goes down, or their household qualifies for FSP or TCA.

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