Schools May Still Apply to Offer Free Lunches to All Students

Last Updated: July 28, 2014

This article appeared in the July 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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The USDA has given schools two more months to decide if they want to participate in a program that allows them to offer free meals to all students regardless of family income.

The option is available as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. That law includes a community-eligibility provision allowing high-poverty schools and districts to offer free meals to all students. In order for schools/districts to participate, at least 40 percent of their students must be eligible to receive free meals because they live in households that participate in certain federal income-based programs, including Head Start or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/SNAP (food stamps), or they live in foster care, migrant families, or are homeless.

Families in eligible schools do not have to apply for the free/reduced price lunch program, and because all the school’s students participate, none face stigma.

The program has been piloted for the last three years in ten states and Washington, D.C. This year is the first that it will be available to all schools.

A USDA memo extending the application deadline from June 30 to August 30, claims that schools in the pilot program increased participation in their meal programs significantly while also reducing administrative costs and increasing revenues.

The program does not, however, cover costs for all students and some districts have expressed concerns that funding will be insufficient and that methods for determining eligibility might affect other poverty-related federal programs, including Title I.

U.S. Department of Education Guidance addresses some of these concerns. Several child nutrition and food advocacy groups have encouraged schools to participate.

Read more:

USDA Letter to School Nutrition Programs

USDE Guidance

News coverage:

Read more from the July 2014
Rural Policy Matters.