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Free and Reduced School Lunches in Missouri

Free and reduced lunches may not have the negative stigma they once did. In a recovering economy, more and more families are turning to Missouri public schools for nutritious, inexpensive meals for their children.

The National School Lunch Program
This federally assisted program was established in 1946 by President Truman. The NSLP operates in over 100,000 public schools, nonprofit private schools, and in residential child care centers, providing “nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.” More than 31 million students benefited from the program in 2011.

Not Just Lunch
The NSLP was expanded in 1998 to include “reimbursement for snacks served to children in afterschool educational and enrichment programs to include children through 18 years of age.” Many schools also offer free and reduced breakfasts.

Who Qualifies for Free & Reduced Lunches?
The formula for free, reduced, or full-price lunches is straightforward:

· If your family earns 130 percent or less of poverty level, your child is eligible for free meals.
· If your family earns 130 to 185 percent of the poverty level, your child is eligible for reduced-price meals. (Students will be charged no more than 40 cents.)
· If your family income is more than 185 percent of poverty, your child will pay full price for his or her school meals.

It’s important to note that even “full priced” school lunches are partially subsidized. Each local school district determines its own prices for meals, but schools are required to operate meal programs on a strictly not-for-profit basis; your child’s school is not allowed to profit from school meal fees.

If your child is involved in afterschool programs where snacks are made available, eligibility for free or reduced snacks is the same as for free and reduced lunches. The only exception is that in schools where the student population is at least 50 percent eligible for free or reduced meals, all snacks can be served to children free.

How to Apply for Free or Reduced Meals
The USDA explains the process for enrollment in the NLSP program, including current income eligibility requirements, program application forms, and information on how application for unemployment may qualify your child for the NLSP program.

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