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Free, reduced-price meal guidelines announced

All households with income levels below certain thresholds are encouraged to apply for any or all of the following programs, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

* National School Lunch Program

* School Breakfast Program

* Special Milk Program

The USDA charges 40 cents per reduced lunch and 30 cents per breakfast. Washington, however, pays all lunch costs for public school students in grades kindergarten through third grade, and all breakfast costs for public school students. The Special Milk Program may provide free milk, depending upon the school, for all eligible students.

At the beginning of the school year, an application packet was sent to all households with students in Washington schools. In addition, each month the Department of Social and Health Services provides the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction with a list of children who receive federal assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or through the Basic Food Program. Those students automatically qualify for free meals if their school participates in federal child nutrition programs.

The application packet, available at each school, explains where the application should be sent. Applications will be reviewed and a determination made within 10 working days of receipt of the application. Parents denied eligibility can appeal the decision by contacting their school.

Applications can be submitted any time during the school year. If a household member becomes unemployed, for example, the family should contact the school because the employment change may make children of the household eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Eligibility lasts from the date of approval up to the first 30 operating days of the next school year or until a family contacts its school or district.

Currently, 379 entities in Washington state participate in the breakfast and lunch programs: 281 public school districts, 48 private schools and 50 residential child care institutions. Schools with fewer than 25 percent of its enrolled students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals are not required to have free and reduced-price meal programs.

Participation in the Special Milk Program consists of 52 entities: two school districts, 40 private schools and 10 nonresidential child care institutions.

Participating schools and institutions must meet at least one-third of the recommendations of the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and calories for lunch. In addition, no more than 30 percent of an individual's calories can come from fat, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat.

Read more at the OSPI Website.

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