SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has announced the eligibility guidelines for students to receive free and reduced-price lunch, breakfast, and after-school snacks through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. The policy took effect at the start of fiscal year 2021 on July 1, 2020. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets the policy for each fiscal year to reflect any changes in the federal poverty guidelines.
The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program are funded by the USDA and administered by ISBE. Free and reduced-price meals ensure access to nutritious meals and snacks for families unable to pay the full price.
“COVID-19 has changed the way schools serve meals to students across Illinois,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “School nutrition programs will continue to ensure every student has access to meals each and every school day, whether students are learning in-person or remotely. I appreciate all the school nutrition professionals across the state for their creativity and dedication in keeping students safe, fed, and healthy.”
Families should also note that if they experience a change in income during the school year, they can reapply at any time for free or reduced-price meals by requesting a Household Eligibility Application from their child’s school.
The USDA extended several nationwide waivers through the end of the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These waivers give key flexibilities to school districts so they can provide meals to students with appropriate safety measures. The waivers allow for the establishment of grab-and-go meal sites, serving meals for multiple days at one time, delivery, and for parents and guardians to pick up meals on behalf of their students. More information on waivers to ensure safe distribution of meals can be found at www.isbe.net/nutrition.
The following chart lists the household size and income criteria that determine students’ eligibility to receive free and reduced-price lunch, breakfast, and after-school snacks through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. USDA’s Fiscal Year 2021 Income Eligibility Guidelines are also on the ISBE’s website at www.isbe.net/Documents/IEG-21.pdf. Families with questions about eligibility should contact their school or district for more information.
USDA provided the following information for families and guardians seeking free or reduced-price meals for students:
- Children from households that meet federal guidelines are eligible for free or reduced-price meal services. Complete one application per household for all children who attend the same school district.
- All meals served must meet USDA meal requirements. However, a school can make substitutions prescribed by a doctor if a child has been determined by the doctor to have a disability that would prevent the child from eating the regular school meal. There will be no extra charge if a substitute meal is needed. Please contact the school for more information if you believe your child needs substitutions because of a disability.
Letters, along with application forms, are being sent to parents or guardians. Households must complete the application as soon as possible, sign it, and return it to the school to apply for free or reduced-price meal services. Additional copies of the application form are available in the principal’s office in each school. Households should answer all applicable questions on the form. An application that does not contain all the required information cannot be processed and approved by the school. Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) participants may be eligible for free/reduced-price meals and are encouraged to complete an application for meal benefits.
The required information is as follows:
SNAP/TANF HOUSEHOLDS: You do not have to complete this application to receive free meal benefits if the school provided you a letter that stated your child(ren) is eligible for free meals via the direct certification process. Households that currently receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for their child(ren) only have to list the child(ren)’s name and at least one SNAP or TANF case number and sign the application. All children listed on the application are categorically eligible for free meals if at least one SNAP/TANF case number for any household member is provided. Applications listing LINK card numbers cannot be used for free or reduced-price meals.
ALL OTHER HOUSEHOLDS: Children are eligible for either free or reduced-price meal services if a household’s income is at or below the level shown on the income scale. Households must provide the following information:
- The names of all household members;
- The last four digits of the Social Security number of the adult household member signing the application, or indicate if the adult does not have a Social Security number;
- The amount of income each household member received last month, how frequently it is paid, and where it came from (wages, child support, etc.); and
- The signature of an adult household member.
The information on the application may be checked by school or other officials at any time during the school year. Households may apply for benefits at any time during the school year. Households that are not eligible now but have a decrease in household income, an increase in household size, or that have a household member become unemployed should fill out an application at that time. Children in temporary living situations, including homeless, migrant, and runaway youth and youth in foster care, and children participating in Head Start are categorically eligible for free meals. Please follow instructions and return form to school. Households that do not agree with the ruling of the official may wish to discuss it with the school. Households also have the right to a fair hearing.
Civil Rights Non-Discrimination Statement
In accordance with federal civil rights law and USDA civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA; its agencies, offices, and employees; and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA.
Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.) should contact the agency (state or local) where they applied for benefits. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339. Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English.
To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form (AD-3027) found at https://www.ascr.usda.gov/how-file-program-discrimination-complaint and at any USDA office or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by:
Mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-9410;
Fax: (202) 690-7442; or
Email: [email protected]
This institution is an equal opportunity provider.