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Eligible families can apply for free and reduced-price meal programs
POULSBO — Washington public schools provide free and reduced-price meals to all qualified students. The application process is confidential.
The following nutrition programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
— National School Lunch Program provides reduced-price lunches at 40 cents each. Washington, however, pays all lunch costs for public school students in grades K‒3 eligible for reduced-price meals.
— School Breakfast Program provides reduced-price breakfasts at 30 cents each. Washington pays all breakfast costs for public school students in grades K-12 eligible for reduced-price meals.
— Special Milk Program may provide free milk, depending upon the school, for all eligible students.
At the beginning of the school year, an application packet was sent to all households with students in Washington schools, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, or OSPI.
All foster children are eligible for free meal benefits. If a household has foster children living with them and wish to apply for meal benefits, they may complete and submit an application.
Homeless and migrant students, households taking part in Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) and students in Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) are eligible for free meals. Contact the child's school.
The application packet, available at each school, explains where the application should be sent. Applications will be reviewed and a determination made within 10 working days of receipt of the application. Parents denied eligibility can appeal the decision by contacting their school.
Applications can be submitted any time during the school year. If a household member becomes unemployed, for example, the family should contact the school because the employment change may make children of the household eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Each month, the Department of Social and Health Services provides OSPI with a list of children who receive federal assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or through the Basic Food Program. These students and all other students in the household automatically qualify for free meals if their school participates in federal child nutrition programs.
A household notified of its child's or children’s eligibility must contact the school if it chooses to decline the free meal benefits. Eligibility lasts from the date of approval up to the first 30 operating days of the next school year or until a family contacts the school or district.
Currently, 373 entities in Washington state participate in the breakfast and lunch programs: 281 public school districts, 45 private schools and 47 residential child care institutions. Schools with fewer than 25 percent of its enrolled students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals are not required to have free and reduced-price meal programs.
Participation in the Special Milk Program consists of 59 entities: two school districts, 38 private schools, 5 nonresidential child care institutions and 14 summer camps.
Participating schools and institutions must follow meal patterns established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for breakfast and lunch. Meal patterns reflect the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and contain foods from specific food groups: milk, meat or meat alternate, grains, fruits, and vegetables. In addition, meals must meet standards for calories, saturated fat, sodium and trans fat.
The income eligibility guidelines listed with this story are used to determine the eligibility of children to receive free or reduced-price meals or free milk.