The Illinois State Board of Education announced changes to the free and reduced-price lunch program for the current school year today. The policy took effect at the start of the 2020 fiscal year on July 1, 2019. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets the policy for each fiscal year to reflect any changes in the federal poverty guidelines. As in years past, families must meet the 130% federal poverty guideline requirement to received reduced-price or free lunches. Many students have lost eligibility to receive the program due to tightened restrictions on SNAP food benefits, a requirement as part of the reduced-price lunch program. Full income criteria can be found on the ISBE website: https://www.isbe.net/Lists/News/NewsDisplay.aspx?ID=1284
Illinois State Board of Education Principal Consultant Tim Murphy gave clarification to the application process.
“The most important thing for families and households to know is that they can apply at the start of the school year, and they can apply anytime during the school year. And they should be receiving those applications from their school.”
Households may apply for benefits at any time during the school year. Households that are not eligible now but have a decrease in household income, an increase in household size, or that have a household member become unemployed should fill out an application at that time. Children in temporary living situations, including homeless, migrant, and runaway youth and youth in foster care, and children participating in Head Start are categorically eligible for free meals.
Murphy underscores the importance of the program.
“Nutrition is such and important part of the school day for every student, and some families rely on these free and reduced meals to help them out and be able to go to the classroom and have breakfast and be ready for the day, and that lunch that is so important.”
Under the new stringent guidelines for SNAP, according to USDA statistics about 265,000 students will lose eligibility to the free and reduced-price lunch program this year. The Trump Administration changed the requirements due to belief in ongoing abuses by participants in the program. Anti-poverty groups around the country see easier enrollment in free school lunches, through options like direct certification and community eligibility, as key to addressing this issue.