New guidelines released for free & reduced-price school meals
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The United States Department of Agriculture has released its new set of guidelines for which students can take part in free or reduced-price school meal programs.

The release comes as families navigate record-high inflation while preparing for the new school year, which starts next month.

Each year, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services releases the metrics for who is eligible to participate in free or reduced-price school meal programs.

Lisa Church, bureau chief of Child Nutrition Programs at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Food, Nutrition and Wellness Division, says many children depend on these programs to keep them fueled for learning.

“Because, of course, you know, if they have full bellies, they have the mindset to learn, so we always encourage them to eat breakfast, eat lunch,” Church said.

Under the new requirements, for a family of four, an annual income of $51,388 or less makes that household eligible for reduced-price meals. That’s nearly $3,000 higher than last year.

That family of four would need to make no more than $36,075 to be eligible for the free meal program. That’s roughly $2,000 more than last year.

Another thing that’s increasing this year is the amount of money that the government will be reimbursing schools for these programs. For the next year, schools will get an extra 40 cents in reimbursement for each lunch served under the program and an extra 15 cents for every breakfast. That’s part of the Keep Kids Fed Act, which was signed into law this year.

“The reimbursement rates actually help the schools because it does look at the Customer Price Index and allows for a higher reimbursement, which then also, when it comes to serving the meals, they can still ensure like the good quality and nutritious meals that are served throughout the school year,” Church explained.

Here’s how families can apply:

  • It can be done online at your child’s school’s website or you can fill out a hard copy and send it to the school district’s office.

  • Only one application per family is required — not one per child.

  • There’s no deadline. You can apply at any point in the school year.

Duval County Public Schools students might be getting their meals for free without any application. It’s because the district opted into a special program called Community Eligibility Provision.

In the district, 122 schools do provide free meals without anything required by students. You can find that list here.

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