Back to school: More kids will get free lunches

More kids are expected to receive free or reduced lunches and breakfasts this school year due to high unemployment and job losses. At least 18.5 million low-income children are expected to receive free or reduced lunches through the National School Lunch Program during the upcoming school year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Also, more than 8.5 million students are expected to receive meals through the federal School Breakfast Program.

Children from families that have incomes that are at or below 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free meals through the National School Lunch Program. Kids from households that have incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals. For example, during the past school year 130% of the poverty level was $27,560 for a family of four, and 185% was $39,220, according to the USDA.

The growth in the number of children getting free lunches isn't surprising considering that more families have turned to food stamps during this recession. About 34.4 million people used food stamps to purchase food in May, up 2% from the previous month, according to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which used to be the federal Food Stamp Program. Also, students who come from homeless families can receive free meals at school.

Free school meal programs have been around in some form in the U.S. for over 150 years. But it wasn't until the 1970s, that free and reduced breakfasts and lunches really became more widespread in schools throughout the country. School lunch programs are aimed at providing meals to children who would otherwise go hungry during the course of their day. For some children,these meals may be the only real nutrition they get depending upon their family circumstances.
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