By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition service announced that updates were made to the income eligibility guidelines, which determine who is eligible for meals served at schools and daycare programs.
The guidelines, which are based on federal poverty levels, are updated annually. The updates are effective from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020. School meals are offered for free or reduced costs through the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs and milk is offered through the Special Milk Program.
According to the press release, which was published on behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the current guidelines state that students are eligible for free school meals if, in a household of four, the income equates to $33,475 or less.
In households where the income is between 33,475.01 and $47,638, students can receive meals at a reduced price.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction stated that schools, which participate in meal programs, generally begin accepting applications during registration and the first few weeks of school. While applications may be submitted at any time, according to the press release “only one application is required per household.”
Families who participate in certain groups such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or FoodShare in Wisconsin, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Wisconsin Works (W-2) Cash Assistance in Wisconsin, are automatically eligible to receive meal benefits according to the press release.
According to the New York Times, under these updates 500,000 children throughout the nation could lose out on a free meal. The changes were made to close the loophole, which had previously allowed people with high incomes to receive food stamps, the New York Times reported.
While the official number of students affected by these changes has not been reported, the decision has come under fire by many. According to responses on the New York Time’s Twitter original post, many are arguing that school meals are the only guaranteed meal of the day for some children.
State Superintendent Carlyn Stanford Taylor said Wisconsin officials are working to ensure that children throughout the state continue to have access to meals.
“Throughout the state, nutrition professionals in schools and facilities are working hard to ensure all children have equitable access to nutritious meals,” Stanford Taylor said.
“Providing healthy meals and snacks helps support meaningful learning opportunities and experiences,” she added.