School Lunch Program

  • Description
  • Funding History
  • Proposals

The School Lunch Program line item is a required state funding match that supplements federal school lunch funding coming into Massachusetts.

The current $5.4 million state funding for school lunch has remained essentially unchanged since it was first required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1981 as a minimum state match to secure over $175 million in federal child nutrition funds.

Together, these state and federal funds provide cash subsidies to school districts running lunch programs, and they help distribute donated food from the USDA. Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through the National School Lunch Program. The School Lunch Program provided free or low-cost meals for over 515,000 kids across Massachusetts in FY 2015.

The USDA has recently made significant improvements to school meal programs. Since 2014, the USDA has allowed the highest poverty schools across the country to serve free breakfast and lunch for all students through a program called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

This system can increase the number of kids receiving free meals, while reducing the potential stigma for students collecting free meals. CEP also reduces the administrative burden of collecting applications from households and checking students’ meal status in school cafeterias each day. For more detail, see the Children’s Budget landing page for School Meals programs.

Students get enrolled in free or reduced price lunch through one of two methods. The first is to be directly certified through their participation in other programs for low-income families (e.g. SNAP/food stamps or MassHealth). As mentioned above, high-poverty schools can use this method to serve free meals to all students through the CEP.

The second way students can enroll in free or reduced lunch is through a paper application where family income and other information is collected. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level ($31,600 for a family of four in FY 2017) are eligible for free meals. Those between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level (up to $45,000 for a family of four in FY 2017) are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent. Local school food authorities set their own prices for full-price meals.

Baseline federal lunch reimbursement rates for Massachusetts in FY 2017 were:

• Free lunch: $3.16
• Reduced-price lunch: $2.76
• Paid lunch: $0.30

Federal reimbursements are calculated differently for schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision. In those schools, the number of students directly certified for free meals is multiplied by 1.6 to determine the percent of meals that will be reimbursed at the free rate by the USDA. For example, a school with 50 percent identified students will be reimbursed for 80 percent of meals served at the free rate, with 20 percent at the lower paid rate.

Updated November 2016

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