What Are the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, and How Can You Apply?


For the 2021-2022 school year, all students were eligible to receive free school lunch and breakfast, regardless of their family’s income. This policy was instituted in 2020 during the pandemic and extended to the current school year in April 2021. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reimbursing schools and childcare centers for the costs of these meals.

See: SNAP Schedule 2022: March Payments
Find: SNAP Benefits Available in Your State in 2022

“At a time when millions of families continue to face financial strain, hunger and hardship, these waivers allow schools to reach more kids with the food they need,” Lisa Davis, senior vice president of national child hunger organization Share Our Strength told EdSource.org. “With them, schools are able to cut through red tape and allow kids to eat for free.”

However, as the effects of the pandemic begin to wane, it is unclear whether the program for free school lunch to every student will extend into the 2022-2023 school year. Yet, Americans now face other financial and economic challenges, including inflation and rising gas prices.

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What Are the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs?

Introduced as the National School Lunch Act under President Harry S. Truman in 1946, the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs (NSLBP) today provide free breakfast and lunch to students in public and private K-12 schools.

The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs were put in place decades ago to provide nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to students in need, according to the USDA. In 2019, before every child began receiving free lunch due to the pandemic, the program served more than 4.8 billion lunches to children across the country.

If the USDA does not extend free lunches for all next year, you might be wondering if your children qualify for the program and how you can apply.

Who Qualifies for NSLBP?

Once the pandemic relief program that delivers free lunch and breakfast to all K-12 students ends, students will need to apply for NSLBP to receive assistance.

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Those who qualify for the program include students:

Students whose families have income at 130% or less than poverty level qualify for free meals, while those whose families earn between 130% and 185% of poverty level are eligible for reduced price lunch and breakfast through the program.

Income eligibility guidelines change each year. For the 2022-2023 school year, a family of four with a gross income of $36,075 would qualify for free meals, while a family of four with a gross income of $51,338 would qualify for reduced cost meals.

How Do You Apply for NSLBP?

Most schools send home applications for the NSLBP at the beginning of the school year. It is as simple as filling out the application and submitting it to the school. If your family receives SNAP or TANF benefits, your children automatically qualify for NSLBP without filling out an application.

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Learn: 5 Things Americans Should Know About SNAP Benefits in 2022
SNAP Benefits Increase in 2022: What It Could Mean for the Immediate and Long-Term Future

If your financial situation changes, you can apply for NSLBP at any time during the school year, as well. Contact the director of your child’s school lunch program, their classroom teacher, or administrative office for information on how to apply. Sometimes, your school website may have the forms available for download.

For additional information on these programs, you can also call the program contact at 202-720-2791.

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