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The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction today announced the 2019-20 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy for free and reduced price meals for children enrolled in North Carolina’s schools. The Federally-assisted school nutrition programs help ensure all students have access to wholesome, nutritious, appealing meals at school.

“Access to healthful meals at school can enhance students’ overall health and academic performance,” State Superintendent, Mark Johnson said. “Children who are hungry or poorly nourished have difficulty learning and do not perform as well in the classroom as students who are well-nourished. Meals and snacks at school are healthier and more appealing than ever before.”

Healthy meals at school, coupled with a safe, student-focused learning environment, are top priorities in North Carolina because they help prepare students for success.

The federal income eligibility guidelines for July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020 are shown below:


The household size and income criteria identified above will be used to determine student eligibility for free and reduced-price meal benefits. Children from households whose income is at or below the levels shown are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Children who are members of households that are eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or Cash Assistance (CA) are automatically eligible for free meals. SNAP/CA families will be certified by the determining official by direct certification. Foster children that are the legal responsibility of a social services agency or court are considered categorically eligible for free meal benefits regardless of the income of the household with whom they reside.

(Note: The SNAP was formerly known as the “Food Stamp” Program. In North Carolina, the SNAP is called “Food and Nutrition Services” or FNS. The CA program was formerly known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF).

Applications for free and reduced-price school meals are being made available to all households. Applications should be available in the principal’s office at each school. To apply for free or reduced-price meals, house­holds must complete the application and return it to the school or to the School Nutrition Office within the school district, charter school, non-public school or other institution participating in the National School Lunch Program. The information provided on the application for free and reduced-price meal benefits will be used to determine student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. Families receiving FNS or CA do not need to complete an application because they are automatically certified by the determining official via direct certification.

For school officials to determine eligibility for free and reduced-price benefits, an adult household member must sign the application. Applications must include the names of all household members, the amount and source of income received by each household member, and the last four digits of the social security number of the adult household member who signs the application. If the household member signing the application does not have a social security number, he/she must indicate that a social security number is not available. All applications for free and reduced price meal benefits are subject to verification of income at any time during the school year by school or other program officials.

Under the provisions of the free and reduced-price policy, the School Nutrition Administrator or designee in each school district, charter school or non-public school will review applications and determine eligibility. Parents or guardians dissatisfied with the ruling of the official may wish to discuss the decision with the determining official on an informal basis. Parents wishing to make a formal appeal for a hearing on the decision may make a request either orally or in writing to the school district, charter school, non-public school or other participating institution.

If a household member becomes unemployed or if the household size increases, the household should contact the school. Such changes may qualify children of the household for school meal benefits if the household’s income falls at or below the levels shown above.

Some of the most common questions and answers about free and reduced price meals are addressed below:


  • All children in households receiving benefits from Food and Nutrition Services (FNS, formerly known as Food Stamps), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) or Cash Assistance (CA), are eligible for free meals.
  • Foster children that are under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court are eligible for free meals.
  • Children participating in their school’s Federally-funded Head Start program are eligible for free meals.
  • Children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant are eligible for free meals.
  • Children may receive free or reduced price meals if your household’s income is within the limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines.

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CHILDREN QUALIFY AS homeless, MIGRANT, OR RUNAWAY? Do the members of your household lack a permanent address? Are you staying together in a shelter, hotel, or other temporary housing arrangement? Does your family relocate on a seasonal basis? Are any children living with you who have chosen to leave their prior family or household?

CAN HOMELESS, RUNAWAY AND MIGRANT CHILDREN RECEIVE FREE MEALS?  Yes, children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant qualify for free meals. If your children meet the definition of homeless, runaway or migrant but have not been informed that they will get free meals, contact the school’s homeless, runaway or migrant liaison.

DO I NEED TO FILL OUT AN APPLICATION FOR EACH CHILD? No. Use one Free and Reduced Price School Meals Application for all students in your household.

SHOULD I FILL OUT AN APPLICATION IF I RECEIVED A LETTER THIS SCHOOL YEAR SAYING MY CHILDREN ARE ALREADY APPROVED FOR FREE MEALS? No, but please read the letter you got carefully and follow the instructions. If any children in your household were missing from your eligibility notification, contact the contact the School Nutrition Administrator in your school district immediately.

MY CHILD’S APPLICATION WAS APPROVED LAST YEAR. DO I NEED TO FILL OUT A NEW ONE?Yes. Your child’s application is only good for that school year and for the first few days of this school year. You must send in a new application unless the school told you that your child is eligible for the new school year. If you do not send in a new application that is approved by the school or you have not been notified that your child is eligible for free meals, your child will be charged the full price for meals.

CAN FOSTER CHILDREN RECEIVE FREE MEALS? Yes, foster children that are under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court, are eligible for free meals. Any foster child in the household is eligible for free meals regardless of income.

CAN CHILDREN ENROLLED IN A SCHOOL’S FEDERALLY-FUNDED HEAD START PROGRAM RECEIVE FREE MEALS?  If your children meet this criterion, and you have not been informed that they will get free meals, you must contact the School Nutrition Administrator in your school district.

WHO CAN RECEIVE REDUCED PRICE MEALS? Children from families whose total household income is within the reduced price limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines Chart can get school meals at a maximum reduced price of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. There is a special provision in North Carolina that enables many students to receive all or a portion of reduced price breakfast meals at no cost to the household. Contact the school’s School Nutrition Administrator for specific details about this provision in your school.

I GET WIC. CAN MY CHILDREN GET FREE MEALS? Children in households participating in WIC maybe eligible for free or reduced price meals. Please send application to the school.

WILL THE INFORMATION I GIVE BE CHECKED? Yes. We may also ask you to send written proof of the household income you report on the application.

IF I DON’T QUALIFY NOW, MAY I APPLY LATER?I Yes, you may apply at any time during the school year. For example, children with a parent or guardian who becomes unemployed may become eligible for free and reduced price meals if the household income drops below the income limit.

WHAT IF I DISAGREE WITH THE SCHOOL’S DECISION ABOUT MY APPLICATION? You should talk to the School Nutrition Administrator that serves your child’s school or you also may ask for a hearing by calling or writing to the School Nutrition Office.

MAY I APPLY IF SOMEONE IN MY HOUSEHOLD IS NOT A U.S. CITIZEN? Yes. You, your children, or other household members do not have to be U.S. citizens to apply for free or reduced price meals.

WHO SHOULD YOU INCLUDE AS MEMBERS OF YOUR HOUSEHOLD?  You must include all people living in your household, related or not (such as grandparents, other relatives, or friends) who share income and expenses.  You must include yourself and all children who live with you. If you live with other people who are economically independent (for example, people who you do not support, who do not share income with you or your children, and who pay a prorated share of expenses), do not include them.

WHAT IF MY INCOME IS NOT ALWAYS THE SAME? List the amount that you normally receive. For example, if you normally make $1000 each month, but you missed some work last month and only made $900, put down that you made $1000 per month. If you normally get overtime, include it, but do not include it if you only work overtime sometimes. If you have lost a job or had your hours or wages reduced, use your current income.

WHAT IF SOME HOUSEHOLD MEMBERS HAVE NO INCOME TO REPORT? Household members may not receive some types of income we ask you to report on the application or may not receive income at all. Whenever this happens, please write 0 in the field. However, if any income fields are left empty or blank, those will also be counted as zeroes. Please be careful when leaving income fields blank, as we will assume you meant to do so.

WE ARE IN THE MILITARY. DO WE REPORT OUR INCOME DIFFERENTLY? Your basic pay and cash bonuses must be reported as income. If you get any cash value allowances for off-base housing, food, or clothing, or receive Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance payments, it must also be included as income. However, if your housing is part of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, do not include your housing allowance as income. Any additional combat pay resulting from deployment is also excluded from income.

MY SPOUSE IS DEPLOYED TO A COMBAT ZONE. IS HIS/HER COMBAT PAY COUNTED AS INCOME? No, if the combat pay is received in addition to his/her basic pay because of his/her deployment and it wasn’t received before he/she was deployed, combat pay is not counted as income. Contact the district’s School Nutrition Administrator for more information.

WHAT IF THERE ISN’T ENOUGH SPACE ON THE APPLICATION FOR MY FAMILY? List any additional household members on a separate piece of paper, and attach it to your application. You may also contact the local School Nutrition Office to receive a second application.

MY FAMILY NEEDS MORE HELP. ARE THERE OTHER PROGRAMS WE MIGHT APPLY FOR? To find out how to apply for Food and Nutrition Services (FNS, formerly Food Stamps) or other assistance benefits, contact your local assistance office or call The Careline at 1-800-662-7030.

For more information, contact the School Nutrition Services of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction at (919) 807-3506 or contact the School Nutrition Administrator in the school district, charter school or non-public school of other participating institution in which your child is enrolled.

In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (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 online at: How to File a 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:

(1) mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20250-9410;

(2) fax: (202) 690-7442; or

(3) email: program.intake@usda.gov.

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.