TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Starting with the 2022 school year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s free school meal initiative, the National School Lunch Program, is shrinking its scope. While some schools will still benefit from free lunches, not all Florida schools will be able to feed every student for free.
Parents in some school districts have probably gotten these notifications already. Multiple Tampa Bay school districts, including Hardee County Schools, Hillsborough County Schools, the seventh largest district in the country, and Pasco County Schools have already announced they’ll be switching from 100% free meals to a combination of free, reduced, or paid school lunch prices for their students. Sarasota County Schools has a similar statement on its site.
Eligibility must be determined through an application process with the USDA. While the new school year is almost here, there’s still time to apply and see if you can get nutritional assistance for your students for 2022-2023.
Applications must be submitted by the beginning of the school year to make sure students in need can get meals on their first day, though applications can be submitted throughout the year as well. The meal benefits themselves start when the application is processed by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services.
The Student Nutrition Services page for Hillsborough said that the benefit of free school meals, a COVID-19 pandemic policy, had ended. The USDA itself said as much at the end of June. According to USDA, that doesn’t mean all free meals are going away, just that not every student will be able to get them. It mostly depends on your family’s income status.
“Some schools use a program called the ‘Community Eligibility Provision’ that helps them serve all meals free. Contact your local school to see if they are part of that program,” the USDA said.
In their informational page about the school meals, the USDA said that households who are currently getting benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (welfare), or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations will automatically be eligible to receive free or reduced meals for their students. Some states tie the benefit to Medicaid as well, dependent on income.
Eligibility for those programs is determined by yearly income. The USDA says “schools will help you understand if you qualify for free or reduced-price meals based on the information you put on their school meal application,” and will tell families when their children are automatically eligible.
The application itself can be found online with each school district.
According to USDA, here’s how much your family income has to be to qualify for free or reduced price meals for the 2022-2023 school year.
|Household Size||Maximum Annual Household Income for Reduced Price Meals, School Year 2022-23*|
|For each additional family member, add||$4,720|
Here is where to find the application for Tampa Bay’s school districts.
- Citrus County
- Hardee County
- Hernando County
- Highlands County
- Hillsborough County
- Manatee County
- Pasco County
- Pinellas County
- Polk County
- Sarasota County