The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) today announced the 2017-18 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy for free and reduced-price meals for children enrolled in North Carolina schools. The USDA’s school meals programs help ensure all students have access to wholesome, nutritious, appealing meals at school.
“Research indicates children who are hungry or poorly nourished have difficulty learning and do not perform as well in the classroom as students who are well-nourished,” said NCDPI School Nutrition Services Section Chief Lynn Harvey. “Providing healthy, appealing meals and snacks at school help ensure that students can focus on academics.”
The federal income eligibility guidelines for July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018 are as follows:
The household size and income criteria identified above will be used to determine student eligibility for free and reduced-price meal benefits. Children from households whose income is at or below the levels shown are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Children who are members of households that are eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or Cash Assistance (CA) are automatically eligible for free meals. The determining official will use direct certification to certify SNAP/CA families. Foster children who are the legal responsibility of a social services agency or court are considered categorically eligible for free meals regardless of the income of the household in which they reside.
(Note: The SNAP was formerly known as the “Food Stamp” Program. In North Carolina, SNAP is called “Food and Nutrition Services” or FNS. The CA program was formerly known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF).
Applications for free and reduced-price school meals are available to all households. Applications should be available in the principal’s office at each school. To apply for free or reduced-price meals, households must complete and sign the application and return it to the school or to the school nutrition office within the school district, charter school, non-public school or other institution participating in the National School Lunch program. The information provided on the application for free and reduced-price meal benefits will be used to determine student eligibility. Families receiving FNS or CA do not need to complete an application because they are automatically certified by the determining official via direct certification.
Applications must include the names of all household members, the amount and source of income received by each household member, and the last four digits of the social security number of the adult household member who signs the application. If the household member signing the application does not have a social security number, he/she must indicate that a social security number is not available. All applications for free and reduced-price meal benefits are subject to verification of income at any time during the school year by the school or other program officials.
Under the provisions of the free and reduced-price policy, the school nutrition administrator or designee in each school district will review applications and determine eligibility. Parents or guardians dissatisfied with the ruling of the official may wish to discuss the decision with the determining official on an informal basis. Parents wishing to make a formal appeal for a hearing on the decision may make a request either orally or in writing to the school district, charter school, non-public school or other participating institution.
If a household member becomes unemployed or if the household size increases, the household should contact the school. Such changes may qualify children of the household for school meals benefits if the household’s income falls at or below the levels shown above.
Some of the most common questions and answers about free and reduced-price meals are addressed below.
WHO CAN RECEIVE FREE OR REDUCED-PRICE MEALS?
* All children in households receiving benefits from Food and Nutrition Services (FNS, formerly known as Food Stamps), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) or Cash Assistance (CA) are eligible for free meals.
* Foster children under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court are eligible for free meals.
* Children participating in their school’s federally-funded Head Start program are eligible for free meals as are children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant.
* Children may receive free or reduced-price meals if their household’s income is within the limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CHILDREN QUALIFY AS HOMELESS, MIGRANT OR RUNAWAY?
Do the members of your household lack a permanent address? Are you staying together in a shelter, hotel or other temporary housing arrangement? Does your family relocate on a seasonal basis? Are any children living with you who have chosen to leave their prior family or household? If yes, you meet this definition.
CAN HOMELESS, RUNAWAY AND MIGRANT CHILDREN RECEIVE FREE MEALS?
Children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant qualify for free meals. If your children meet the definition of homeless, runaway or migrant but have not been informed that they will get free meals, contact the school’s homeless, runaway or migrant liaison.
DO I NEED TO FILL OUT AN APPLICATION FOR EACH CHILD?
No. Use one free and reduced-price school meals application for all students in your household.
SHOULD I FILL OUT AN APPLICATION IF I RECEIVED A LETTER THIS SCHOOL YEAR SAYING MY CHILDREN ARE ALREADY APPROVED FOR FREE MEALS?
No, but please read the letter you got carefully and follow the instructions. If any children in your household were missing from your eligibility notification, contact the contact the school nutrition administrator in your school district immediately.
MY CHILD’S APPLICATION WAS APPROVED LAST YEAR. DO I NEED TO FILL OUT A NEW ONE?
Yes. Your child’s application is only good for that school year and for the first few days of this school year. You must send in a new application unless the school told you that your child is eligible for the new school year. If you do not send in a new application that is approved by the school or you have not been notified that your child is eligible for free meals, your child will be charged the full price for meals.
CAN FOSTER CHILDREN RECEIVE FREE MEALS?
Yes, foster children who are under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court are eligible for free meals. Any foster child in the household is eligible for free meals regardless of income.
CAN CHILDREN ENROLLED IN A SCHOOL’S FEDERALLY-FUNDED HEAD START PROGRAM RECEIVE FREE MEALS?
If your children meet this criterion, and you have not been informed that they will get free meals, you must contact the school nutrition administrator in your school district.
WHO CAN RECEIVE REDUCED PRICE MEALS?
Children from families whose total household income is within the reduced-price limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines chart can get school meals at a maximum reduced price of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. There is a special provision in North Carolina that enables many students to receive all or a portion of reduced price breakfast meals at no cost to the household. Contact the school’s school nutrition administrator for specific details about this provision in your school.
I GET WIC. CAN MY CHILDREN GET FREE MEALS?
Children in households participating in WIC may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Please submit an application.
WILL THE INFORMATION I GIVE BE CHECKED?
Yes. We may also ask you to send written proof of the household income you report.
IF I DON’T QUALIFY, MAY I APPLY LATER?
Yes, you may apply at any time during the school year. For example, children with a parent or guardian who becomes unemployed may become eligible for free and reduced-price meals if the household income drops below the income limit.
WHAT IF I DISAGREE WITH THE SCHOOL’S DECISION ABOUT MY APPLICATION?
You should talk to the district’s school nutrition administrator or you also may ask for a hearing by calling or writing to the school nutrition office.
MAY I APPLY IF SOMEONE IN MY HOUSEHOLD IS NOT A U.S. CITIZEN?
Yes. You, your children, or other household members do not have to be U.S. citizens to apply for free or reduced-price meals.
WHO SHOULD YOU INCLUDE AS MEMBERS OF YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
You must include all people living in your household, related or not (such as grandparents, other relatives, or friends) who share income and expenses. You must include yourself and all children who live with you. Do not report other people who are economically independent (for example, people who you do not support, who do not share income with you or your children, and who pay a prorated share of expenses).
WHAT IF MY INCOME IS NOT ALWAYS THE SAME?
List the amount that you normally receive. For example, if you normally make $1000 each month, but you missed some work last month and only made $900, put down that you made $1000 per month. If you normally get overtime, include it, but do not include it if you only work overtime sometimes. If you have lost a job or had your hours or wages reduced, use your current income.
WHAT IF SOME HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS HAVE NO INCOME TO REPORT?
Household members may not receive some types of income we ask you to report on the application, or may not receive income at all. Whenever this happens, please check the no income box. However, if any income fields are left empty or blank, those will also be counted as zeroes. Please be careful when leaving income fields blank, as we will assume you meant to do so.
WE ARE IN THE MILITARY. DO WE REPORT OUR INCOME DIFFERENTLY?
Your basic pay and cash bonuses must be reported as income. If you get any cash value allowances for off-base housing, food, or clothing, or receive family subsistence supplemental allowance payments, it must also be included as income. However, if your housing is part of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, do not include your housing allowance as income. Any additional combat pay resulting from deployment is also excluded from income.
MY SPOUSE IS DEPLOYED TO A COMBAT ZONE. IS HIS/HER COMBAT PAY COUNTED AS INCOME?
No, if the combat pay is received in addition to his/her basic pay because of his/her deployment and it wasn’t received before he/she was deployed, combat pay is not counted as income. Contact the district’s school nutrition administrator for more information.
WHAT IF THERE ISN’T ENOUGH SPACE ON THE APPLICATION FOR MY FAMILY?
List any additional household members on a separate piece of paper, and attach it to your application. You may also contact the local school nutrition office to receive a second application.
MY FAMILY NEEDS MORE HELP. ARE THERE ANY OTHER PROGRAMS WE MIGHT APPLY FOR?
To find out how to apply for Food and Nutrition Services (FNS, formerly Food Stamps) or other assistance benefits, contact your local assistance office or call The Careline at 1-800-662-7030.
WILL CHILDREN BE TREATED DIFFERENTLY IF THEY RECEIVE FREE OR REDUCED-PRICE MEALS?
No. Children receiving free or reduced-price meals are treated the same as children who pay for their meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits discrimination against its customers, employees, and applicants for employment on the bases of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sex, gender identity, religion, reprisal, and where applicable, political beliefs, marital status, familial or parental status, sexual orientation, or all or part of an individual’s income is derived from any public assistance program, or protected genetic information in employment or in any program or activity conducted or funded by the Department. (Not all prohibited bases will apply to all programs and/or employment activities.)