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Providing Income Information Ensures Student Access to School Meals

A student sits at a lunch table talking to a friend.

Income Guidelines for Free Meals

Income Guidelines for Reduced-Price Meals

OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON, USA, September 29, 2022 / -- Families are encouraged to provide income information to their school districts to ensure that their students have access to much-needed school meals.

This information helps determine students’ eligibility for meals, and it is also used to identify other student benefits such as reduced fees and additional funding for schools. Information provided may also be used to qualify eligible children for Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) programs.

Families will be asked to fill out one of two documents, a free and reduced-price meals application, or a family income survey. Both forms are simple to fill out and confidential. There are no citizenship requirements for participation in the federal child nutrition programs that Washington’s schools operate, and immigration status is not requested or disclosed.

All households with students in grades K–12 receive application packets from their child’s school at the beginning of the school year. The application packet provides instructions and directions on where to send the materials. In addition, many schools make meal applications or family income surveys available electronically.

After families submit their Free and Reduced-Price Meal Applications, determinations are made within 10 operating days of receipt. Households denied eligibility can appeal the decision by contacting their school.

Family Income Surveys are offered to families whose schools participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP provides free meals for all students in a school, but income surveys provide crucial eligibility information for other student benefits.

Meal applications can be submitted at any time during the school year. Households that experience a change in income due to job loss or other circumstances are encouraged to apply.

Family income information supports the continued operation of meal programs in Washington state. In Washington, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) administers three federal U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Child Nutrition Programs: the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Special Milk Program.

Schools with more than 25% of enrolled K–4 students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals are required to operate the National School Lunch Program. In addition, schools with more than 40% of enrolled students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals are required to operate the School Breakfast Program.

USDA Child Nutrition Program Income Guidelines

Income eligibility guidelines are used to determine eligibility to receive free or reduced-price meals or free milk.

Income guidelines for eligibility for free meals and reduced-price meals apply from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023.

NOTE: The state of Washington pays the copay for public school students who are eligible for reduced-price meals in grades pre-K-12.

Additional Eligibility

There are several additional programs and circumstances that provide automatic eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.

To facilitate automatic eligibility and make the process more efficient for families, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) provides a list of children who receive the following services. Households are notified of the eligibility and must contact the school if they choose to decline the benefits.

- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Basic Food (SNAP)
- Specific Medicaid programs
- Children placed in foster care

In foster households, all other students in the household may be eligible based on household size and income. In these situations, households may submit an application.

Students in the following programs or circumstances are also eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Families should contact their schools for more information.

- Students experiencing homelessness
- Students enrolled in Migrant Education Programs
- Households taking part in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Students in Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program

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

Households needing assistance with application materials in languages other than English should contact their school for assistance. 

If you have questions about eligibility, please contact your child’s school.

For More Information
Child Nutrition Programs in Washington state, including applications for free and reduced-price meals
USDA National School Lunch Program
USDA School Breakfast Program

In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, 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: 
Mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture  Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights  1400 Independence Avenue, SW  Washington, D.C. 20250-9410; 
Fax: (202) 690-7442; or 
This institution is an equal opportunity provider

Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
+1 360-725-6000
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