Free or reduced school meals: Income eligibility guidelines for 2018-2019

It’s back to school time and for cash-strapped families, the cost of breakfast and lunch for children can really put a strain on the budget.

Fortunately, free and reduced meals and free milk are made available to children of qualifying families through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

If your family meets the income eligibility guidelines, you can save hundreds of dollars a year through this program.

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What are the income eligibility guidelines for free and reduced meals?

We teach our children that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But to a hungry child, any opportunity for a square meal is the most important meal of the day.

In 2016, more than 30.4 million children received free or reduced lunches in the United States every day, according to the latest figures from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service.

Here are the income eligibility guidelines for this year:

Federal eligibility income chart for 2018-2019 school year

Household size Yearly income Monthly income Weekly income
1 $22,459 $1,872 $432
2 $30,451 $2,538 $586
3 $38,443 $3,204 $740
4 $46,435 $3,870 $893
5 $54,427 $4,536 $1,047
6 $62,419 $5,202 $1,201
7 $70,411 $5,868 $1,355
8 $78,403 $6534 $1,508
Each additional $7,992 $666 $154

Who qualifies for free or reduced meals?

  • Households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Foster children under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court
  • Children participating in their school's Head Start program
  • Homeless, migrant or runaway children
  • Households that meet the income eligibility guidelines listed above
  • Children in households participating in Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) may be eligible, too

Contact your local school district for information on applying.

How much money will this save a family?

While prices may vary by school district, one local metro Atlanta district charges the following for meals:

Grade level Breakfast – full price Breakfast – reduced Lunch – full price Lunch – reduced
Elementary $1.50 $0.30 $2.35 $0.40
Middle $1.50 $0.30 $2.60 $0.40
High School $1.50 $0.30 $2.60 $0.40

Full price

  • Breakfast: $1.50
  • Lunch: $2.35 for elementary school and $2.60 for middle and high school

Reduced price 

  • Breakfast: $0.30
  • Lunch: $0.40

A high-school student who meets the USDA eligibility requirements would only have to pay $135 for both breakfast and lunch during the 180 classroom days most states mandate. That’s a $600 savings off the full price of $738 for the same meals if the student does not qualify for USDA eligibility.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind 

  • If your child's application for free or reduced meals was approved last year, you still must reapply for the new school year.
  • You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for free or reduced price meals.
  • For military families, basic pay, cash bonuses and any cash value allowances (off-base housing, food, clothing) must be reported as income. However, both combat pay from deployment and housing allowances for the Military Housing Privatization Initiative are exempt from being reported as income.

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