The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the national school lunch and breakfast programs, has announced the rate schedule for free and reduced-price meals.
Most school districts have sent application forms to homes with a letter to parents or guardians explaining how to apply for the meals if eligible.
Residents can apply for meal benefits at any time during the school year - if residents lose their job, their income decreases, their family size increases, or if they begin receiving food stamps or begin participating in another relevant federal aid program.
Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. That's $26,845 for a family of four, or $517 a week.
Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents.
A family of four that earns $38,203 annually - or $735 - is considered at 185 percent of the poverty level.
Families with incomes over 185 percent of the poverty level pay full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some degree by the USDA.
Local school food authorities set their own prices for full-price meals, but must operate their meal services as nonprofit programs.
Any financial information families supply when they apply for free and reduced-price lunches must be kept confidential.
The National School Lunch Program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.
In June, 2004, Congress enacted the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization of 2004, requiring school districts participating in the USDA's reimbursable school meal program to create local "wellness" policies by July 1, 2006.
According to federal and state mandates, school districts are also required to create a committee, or Coordinated School Health Team, that would provide ongoing review and evaluation of their local wellness policies and would develop specific administrative rules to implement these policies' umbrella guidelines at the local level.
Schools that are required to follow the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for the school lunch program are not required to use those standards for food sold a la carte, food sold in snack bars, and food sold through vending machines.
The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for school lunch programs states that lunches for students ages 14 and up should have about 846 calories.
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