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New Guidelines Announced for Free and Reduced-Price School Meals

USDA Announces Adjustments in Income Eligibility

BALTIMORE – The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has announced revised Income Eligibility Guidelines (IEGs) for free and reduced-price school meals. The guidelines are set by the federal government and adopted by the MSDE. Guidelines are used to determine eligibility for free or reduced-price meals in the child nutrition programs for the period July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) annual adjustments to the IEGs are required by Section 9 of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. The guidelines are intended to directly benefit those children most in need and are revised annually to account for changes in the Consumer Price Index. The IEGs were established by multiplying the 2017 federal income poverty guidelines by 130 percent to determine the household income levels for free meal eligibility and by 185 percent for the reduced-price meal eligibility income levels. The income levels are rounded upward to the next whole dollar.

Household size and income is the most common way to determine eligibility. For example, a child from a family of four is eligible for free school meals if the household’s current annual income is below $31,980. If the family’s annual income is between $31,980 and $45,510, the child is eligible for reduced-price meals.
Meal Benefit Applications will be sent home from school at the beginning of the school year. Parents and guardians should fill out the application completely and send it back to the school. Schools cannot approve incomplete applications. United States citizenship is not required to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Schools will inform households whether children qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Parents and guardians may speak with school officials concerning disagreement with the school’s decision or appeal the decision and request a fair hearing with school district administrators.

Children enrolled in a Head Start program, children certified as homeless, migrant, runaway, foster, or children living in households that receive Food Supplement Program (FSP) or Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) benefits are eligible for free meals and do not need to fill out an application. Some FSP and TCA households will receive a letter from the school indicating that children in the household are eligible for free meals. Food Supplement Program and TCA households that do not receive a letter by the beginning of the school year should fill out an application. Other children that may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals include children in households participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Parents and guardians of these children should complete an application.

Parents and guardians may reapply at any time during the school year and are encouraged to do so if the household size increases, parents and guardians become unemployed, income decreases, or the household qualifies for FSP or TCA.

School Meals include the following programs: School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, After-School Care Snack component, and Special Milk Program. The School Meals programs are administered in Maryland by the MSDE and by the USDA, and must meet nutrition requirements set by the USDA. Please visit the MSDE web site at for additional information regarding the Child Nutrition Programs.

Individuals who want more information concerning schools or facilities that participate in one of the Child Nutrition Programs should contact a Program Specialist at 410-767-0219.

Income Eligibility Guidelines

(Effective July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018)

Household Size Free Meals Reduced-Price Meals
Year Month Week Year Month Week
1 $15,678 $1,307 $302 $22,311 $1,860 $430
2 21,112 1,760 406 30,044 2,504 578
3 26,546 2,213 511 37,777 3,149 727
4 31,980 2,665 615 45,510 3,793 876
5 37,414 3,118 720 53,243 4,437 1,024
6 42,848 3,571 824 60,976 5,082 1,173
7 48,282 4,024 929 68,709 5,726 1,322
8 53,716 4,477 1,033 76,442 6,371 1,471

For each additional family member add… $5,434 $453 $ 105 $7,733 $645 $149

MSDE and USDA are equal opportunity providers.