By Deborah Bailey,
Contributing Editor

We are still in a global COVID-19 pandemic, but with many returning to pre-pandemic routines, most school schedules across the nation have also returned to the pre-pandemic area. 

That means that school meals nationwide are no longer automatically free. 

Parents must now sign up and qualify for free school lunches, said Pamela Taylor, SVP/Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Share Our Strength, a non-profit organization with a mission to end childhood hunger. 

Many parents may not be aware that free and reduced meal applications are available at any time during the school year.  With the rush of getting kids vaccinated and back to school, many parents may not have forgotten to complete the application during the first weeks of school. 

“We want to be sure parents know that healthy school meals are available this year, but to receive them for free or at a reduced price, they’ll need to fill out a form with their school,” Taylor said. 

According to the U.S.D.A., any family earning at or below income qualifying guidelines (see below) is encouraged to contact their school to request an application at any time.

Participation in the Federal Government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) automatically qualifies families for free school meals. 

Federal unemployment status may also be a qualifier, according to the U.S.D.A. website. “Just like books or pencils, food is an important school supply, helping ensure kids are nourished and ready to learn,” Taylor said. 

Child Nutrition Income Eligibility Guidelines to qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches are calculated each year and are good from June 2022 through July 2023. 

Information on the national 2022-223 qualifying guidelines for free and reduced school meals is printed here:

table of CN income eligibility guidelines
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service: July 2022-June 2023

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