The back-to-school forms and handouts that K-12 parents receive every fall include details on the free and reduced-price school lunch program.

If your family is eligible for the school lunch program, even if you will expect that situation will be just for part of the year, sign up. You can send a packed lunch on days in which your child doesn’t like the menu. But if you are in that income demographic, I think you’ll appreciate having some help with household expenses.

Students can go on, and off, the lunch program at any time of the school year based on a change in family circumstances such as a parent losing a job.

If you haven’t seen the lunch program application yet, and are wondering whether your family would qualify, the 2012-13 school lunch program income eligibility chart for the 48 contiguous states (note: Michigan and Ohio readers) is as follows:

Reduced price lunches

These numbers are equivalent to 185 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

  • 1 person in family: $20,665 a year.
  • 2 people: $27,911.
  • 3 people: $35,317.
  • 4 people: $42,643.
  • 5 people: $49,969.
  • 6 people: $57,295.
  • 7 people: $64,621.
  • 8 people: $71.947.

Free lunches

These numbers are equivalent to 130 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

  • 1 person in family: $14,521.
  • 2 people: $19,669.
  • 3 people: $24,817.
  • 4 people: $29,965.
  • 5 people: $35,113.
  • 6 people: $40,261.
  • 7 people: $45,409.
  • 8 people: $50,557.

Wages, tips, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, military housing allowance, Social Security, alimony, and child support are among the sources counted as income. There also are special circumstances in which children qualify regardless of family income, such as in the case of foster children.

The application needs to be updated every year. There is only a 30-day grace period for children who were on the lunch program during the previous school year. But parents will find out fairly quickly whether an application is accepted. The federal guidelines to schools are that parents should be notified within 10 “operating days” of receipt of application whether it was approved.

Free lunches include free milk and free breakfast at the schools that have additional food service.

Even though the cost of full-price lunches will vary by school (see the Monroe County MI list), the cost of reduced-price meals are set by the federal school lunch program as “40 cents or less” for lunch, and “30 cents or less” for breakfast. The charts I’ve seen from the local schools is that they are following the 40-cent and 30-cent pricing.

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