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USDA raises income requirements for free and reduced school lunch programs to keep up with inflation

A overhead shot of a student in line to pay for their school lunch. They're standing in front of a tray of food and typing a number on a machine at a register. The head is out of frame.
Morgan Lee

The new U.S. Department of Agriculture income limits for free and reduced school lunches have been raised to reflect inflation.

Roughly 39% of school children in Idaho qualified to receive free or reduced-price lunches this past school year. The USDA’s income guidelines for the upcoming year have increased by about 7% to 8% to reflect inflation costs.

For example, the cut-off to receive free meals for a household of four used to be just above 36,000 dollars. This year, it’s 39,000.

Lynda Westphal, the Director of Child Nutrition Programs for the State Department of Education says families should apply again.

“There are parents that fall through the cracks,” she said, adding households that were dropped last year might qualify again under the new guidelines.

"This year with it going up more, I'm hoping that more parents do qualify and that will alleviate the burden on them having to pay full price for a meal."

Westphal said the schools do not ask parents for proof of citizenship and do not share income information with the government. Parents can also apply to the program at any time. .

“They could apply now. And if they don't qualify and then something happens and heaven forbid someone may lose their job, they can apply at that time as well,” she said.

Families on SNAP benefits may automatically be enrolled, but it’s not a prerequisite. Under the program, each meal is free or costs no more than 40 cents for lunches and 30 cents for breakfast.

I joined Boise State Public Radio in 2022 as the Canyon County reporter through Report for America, to report on the growing Latino community in Idaho. I am very invested in listening to people’s different perspectives and I am very grateful to those who are willing to share their stories with me. It’s a privilege and I do not take it for granted.

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