Schools are reimbursed by the USDA at annually fixed rates for each meal they serve to students. In order to receive this reimbursement, school meal programs agree to serve students meals that meet nutritional requirements established by the USDA.
The reimbursement rate for each meal depends upon the family income level of the child who receives it, as well as the number of household members. Each year, USDA sets income levels based on household size.
- Children living in households with income at or below 130% of the federal poverty line are eligible for free school meals.
- Children living in households with income between 131% and 185% of the federal poverty line are eligible for reduced-price school meals. In Vermont, we have eliminated the cost to families for reduced-price school meals. Instead, the State of Vermont reimburses school meal programs the $0.30 per breakfast and the $0.40 per lunch that is not covered by the USDA reduced-price reimbursement rate. Therefore, all children from households at or below 185% of poverty eat school meals for free.
- All other families pay the full price for their children school meals, as set by their local School Board.
For school year 2016-2017, for example, the children in a family of 4 with an annual income of $31,590 or less would qualify for free meals. If the family earned up to $44,955, the children would qualify for reduced-price meals at school (click here for the school year 2016-2017 income eligibility chart).
Low-income families enroll their children in their school meal program by completing an application each year disclosing the members of their household and the amount and sources of their income.
Children living in households receiving 3SquaresVT or Reach-Up benefits are directly eligible to receive free school meals, as are children who are homeless, part of migrant families, in foster care, or enrolled in Head Start preschool programs.
No student is required to eat school meals. Any student may eat breakfast at home, and may bring a packed lunch to school.