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Updates to the 24-25 Income Eligibility Guidelines

On February 20th, the USDA announced the annual adjustments to the income eligibility requirements for Child Nutrition Programs. These requirements are used by schools and institutions participating in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and starting in 2024, the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer to determine student eligibility for free and reduced-priced meals.


It is crucial for families and school administrators alike, to understand these guidelines, as they play a crucial role in ensuring that children have access to nutritious meals at school. To help simplify the update, we at School Food and Wellness Group have broken down the key details to ensure our readers understand the impact this update has on students and families.


Who Qualifies for Free or Reduced-Price Meals?


Eligibility for free or reduced-price meals is determined based on household income and size in comparison to the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Households with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals, while those with incomes between 130% to 185% of the federal poverty level qualify for reduced-price meals. These guidelines ensure that the program targets assistance to the children most in need.

The first level of approval for benefits are families that receive SNAP and/or Medicaid benefits. Schools obtain a list from their State Agency of all students who are getting SNAP or Medicaid. These students will automatically qualify for meal benefits. In some cases, State data is not 100% accurate so some students may slip through this crack.


The next layer of approval will rely on parent reported income. Below is a comparison table for a family of four, showing last school year's (23-24) income requirements against this upcoming school year's (24-25), including the Federal Poverty Levels (FPL). This comparison provides a clear view of how eligibility thresholds have been adjusted to accommodate changes in the economic landscape.




Federal Poverty Level (family of 4)



Your family qualifies for Free Meals if your total household annual income is this or lower



Your family qualifies for Reduced-Price Meals if your total household annual income is this or lower



In the above table, for the coming school year (24-25), if you have 4 people living in your household and collectively you make less than $40,560 for the year, your child will qualify for free meals. If you make more than $40,560 but less than $57,720 your child will qualify for reduced-price meals.

Please visit the official USDA website for the complete 2023 table and complete 2024 table.


Who Determines If You Qualify Based on Income?


Families interested in applying for free or reduced-price meals must submit an application provided by their school. School officials then compare this information against the above linked table to determine eligibility.


What Defines Your Income?


For the purpose of determining eligibility for free or reduced-price meals, income includes all current sources of income for all members of the household. This includes hourly wages, annual salary, commissions, unemployment benefits, Social Security, pensions, rental income, alimony, child support, and any other cash income, before taxes.


What Is the Process Each Year to Know Who Will Be Eligible?


Each year, parents must submit a new application to reflect any changes in income or household size. This annual reevaluation ensures that the assistance is provided to those who currently meet the eligibility criteria. Schools typically distribute these applications at the beginning of the school year, but families can apply or reapply at any point during the year if their circumstances change. Schools also receive a list of students receiving SNAP and Medicaid benefits throughout the year.


What If Our Household or Income Changes?


If a family experiences a decrease in income or an increase in household size, or if a family member becomes unemployed, they may become eligible for free or reduced-price meals and should contact their school to apply or reapply. Alternatively, if a family's income increases or household size decreases, they may no longer qualify for the program and are required to notify the school.


The new guidelines are effective from July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2025. By understanding and navigating these changes correctly, schools and families can ensure that children have access to the nutrition they need to thrive both in and out of the classroom. Child Nutrition Programs are here to support families, so taking the time to understand your eligibility can make a significant difference in your child's health and education.


If you have specific questions regarding student eligibility, please email and one of our knowledgeable consultants would be happy to answer your questions.


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