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State revises guidelines for reduced-price, free school meals

July 07, 2003

The Maryland State Department of Education announced revised Income Eligibility Guidelines for free and reduced-price school meals and for free milk. The guidelines are set by the federal government and adopted by the Maryland State Department of Education for school students across the state. They are effective from July 1 through June 30, 2004.

Household size and income determine eligibility. For example, a child from a family of four will be entitled to a free lunch and, where available, free breakfast and/or free milk if the household's current annual income is below $23,920. If that same family's income is between $23,920 and $34,040, the child will pay 40 cents for a reduced-price lunch and 30 cents for a reduced-price breakfast.

These guidelines are used by schools, institutions and day care centers participating in the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Milk Program, the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. With the exception of split-session pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs that do not have access to meals, schools that participate in federally funded meal program such as the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program do not receive subsidy for one-half pints of milk. Separate servings of milk will be available free to eligible kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students in schools that participate in the Special Milk Program and that have elected the free milk option.

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Public school systems will use a method called "Direct Certification" to approve students for free meals or free milk. This method is available as the result of a partnership between the Food Stamp Policy Division of the Department of Human Resources and the School and Community Nutrition Programs Branch of the Maryland State Department of Education. This method allows students who have been certified for Food Stamps or Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) to receive free meals without completing an application. It is designed to reduce paperwork and improve the delivery of nutrition benefits to Maryland's low-income children in public schools.

In addition, each school system and agency that participates in one or more of the Child Nutrition Programs will send all parents/guardians a letter and application at or near the beginning of the school year. Some households receiving Food Stamps or TCA may not be directly certified. On their application, these households must list: the child's name; their Food Stamp or TCA case number or the household income (wages, child support, etc.) and how often income is received; the signature of an adult household member certifying that the information provided is correct; and the Social Security Number of the adult household member who signs the application or a statement that the household member does not possess one.

Households that list Food Stamp or TCA case numbers must report increases in household income of more than $50 per month or $600 per year. The information provided on the application is used for the purpose of determining and verifying eligibility for free or reduced-price meals.

The eligibility status of each child may be given to local Title I officials for allocation and evaluation purposes, and National Assessment of Educational Progress for analyses. The information may also be shared with other federal or state education or health programs for authorized purposes. No other use of this information is permitted.

Because of federal requirements, school systems verify income information on a percentage of all applications approved for free and reduced-price meals by Oct. 31 annually. Applications will not be verified until after they have been approved. Applications to be verified will be randomly selected. Households selected for verification will be notified by the school and told what type of documentation is required to prove that their income has been correctly reported on the application.

A copy of the current policy will be on file at the central office of school food service in each school system, and is accessible to parents. Parents who are dissatisfied with the ruling on benefits for their children may appeal the decision according to procedures outlined in the policy statement.

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