What are free and reduced-price lunches and who qualifies?
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides free and reduced-price lunches for school-age children across America. There are two primary eligibility pathways for children to qualify for the program: income eligibility and categorical eligibility.
Kids who enroll in the program through the income pathway can receive free or reduced-price lunches if their household incomes are below 185 percent of the federal poverty level—nearly $46,500 per year for a family of four. Those with household incomes below 130 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for free lunches, while kids from homes with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level qualify for reduced-price lunches. Under federal law, schools are prohibited from charging more than 40 cents for a reduced-price lunch.
Kids who enroll in the program via categorical eligibility qualify if their household is enrolled in federal welfare programs, such as food stamps. They receive free meals regardless of whether their household income level actually meets the program’s guidelines.