More than 27 million children in 97,700 American schools get free or reduced-cost meals each day through the National School Lunch Program.
- The $5.5 billion program is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, which provides cash subsidies and donated commodities to schools for each meal they serve.
- Children from families with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. For a family of four that means a family income of $22,945. Children from families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level, or $32,653 for a family of four, are eligible for reduced-price meals. They can be charged no more than 40 cents a meal.
- Schools most often receive cash reimbursements for each meal served. This school year, the basic reimbursement rate for a free meal is $2.09, while the rate for a reduced-price meal is $1.69.
- Parents sign up for the program; most are not required to provide proof of their income levels.
- The program was enacted in 1946 and has served more than 180 billion lunches since then.
SOURCE: Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Web site
A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as School Lunch Program at a Glance