Family income levels for free or discounted lunches have increased slightly to keep up with inflation.
Under the new criteria effective July 1, children from a family of four making at or below $46,435 a year are eligible for free or discounted meals, according to a news release from Columbia Public Schools.
Last year, the annual federal income amount was $45,510.
Federal income eligibility levels change every year because of inflation adjustments, said Laina Fullum, district director of nutrition services.
Meal prices for Columbia students will stay the same, however.
The district is in a good spot financially and decided not to raise meal prices for this upcoming year, Fullum said. Eligible students may buy breakfast for 30 cents and lunch for 40 cents.
Applications are available at school offices. Families can apply for free or discounted lunch all year long. The online application for free and reduced lunches will become available at the Columbia Public School’s website on July 15.
“Our job is to provide immediate assistance and relief for families in need,” Fullum said. “If a parent loses their job in October, they can fill out an application the next day.”
Nine schools in Columbia Public Schools are considered schools with a high rate of directly certified students, which means a high percentage of the school’s students qualify for state benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
All students at these schools are automatically eligible for free or discounted meals, Fullum said, and they are given free breakfast and lunch.
The schools are Alpha Hart Lewis, Battle, Benton, Blue Ridge, Derby Ridge, New Haven and West Boulevard elementary schools, Douglass High School and the Center of Responsive Education.
For the 2017-2018 school year, 44.2 percent of all Columbia Public Schools students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals, according to the system’s website.
“I always suspect that number is higher,” Fullum said.
Families who may qualify for free or reduced-price meals may not want to fill out an application or they may not even know about it, Fullum said. The system’s numbers are based only on families that apply.