OLYMPIA – Many students across Washington State rely on school meals to meet their nutritional needs. As the economic impacts of COVID-19 continue, more families are taking advantage of free meals provided by school districts.
School districts across the state are able to provide free meals to all children aged 0–18, or older if enrolled in the K–12 school system, through the end of December 2020, thanks to waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, once the funds run out at the end of the calendar year, many students will still need access to free or reduced-price meals from their school.
Families are strongly encouraged to complete a School Meal Application now, which determines a student’s eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.
The application process is simple and confidential. There are no citizenship requirements for participation, and immigration status is not requested or disclosed.
Information obtained from meal applications is used to determine student eligibility for a number of school programs. In addition, the information drives funding and supports to schools.
All households with students in grades K–12 receive application packets at the beginning of the school year. The application packet provides instructions and directions on where to send the applications.
In addition, many schools make meal applications available electronically. Application review and determinations are made within 10 operating days of receipt of the application. Households denied eligibility can appeal the decision by contacting their school.
Applications can be submitted any time during the school year. Households that experience a change in income due to job loss or other circumstances are encouraged to apply.
Many school districts are offering alternative methods of meal distribution in the 2020–21 school year to match current educational models used in the district. Families should contact their local school district to find out how meals are being offered.
Students receiving help through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/Basic Food Program – as well as all other students in the same household – automatically qualify for free meals. Children participating in specific Medicaid programs may also qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) provides the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) with a list of children who receive these services to facilitate automatic eligibility. Households notified of their children’s eligibility must contact the school if the household chooses to decline the free meal benefits.
Foster children are eligible for free meal benefits. Children placed in foster care are also included in the list provided to OSPI. In households where foster children reside, all other students in the household may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals based on household size and income. In these situations, households may submit an application.
Students experiencing homelessness, students enrolled in Migrant Education Programs, households taking part in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and students in Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program are eligible for free meals. Families should contact their child’s school for more information.
Eligibility lasts from the date of approval up to the first 30 operating days of the next school year or until a family contacts the school or district.
Households needing assistance with applications materials in languages other than English should contact their school for assistance.
The income eligibility guidelines listed below are used to determine the eligibility of children to receive free or reduced-price meals or free milk. Washington state legislation pays the cost of lunch for public school students eligible for reduced-price meals in grades K‒3 and the cost of breakfast for public school students eligible for reduced-price meals in grades K‒12.
USDA Child Nutrition Program Income Guidelines
The following income guidelines for eligibility for free meals and reduced-price meals apply from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.
If you have questions about eligibility, please contact your child’s school.
Schools with more than 25% of the enrolled K–4 students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals are required to operate the National School Lunch Program. In addition, schools with more than 40% of enrolled students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals are required to operate the School Breakfast Program.
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