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This is How to Qualify for Free School Meals in New York

This is How to Qualify for Free School Meals in New York

School meals can still be a nutritious source of free food for your child. Here's how.

Many New York students rely on school for at least one of their meals, and that need has only grown during the coronavirus pandemic. The good news is that amidst all of this uncertainty, school can still be a nutritious and delicious source of free meals for your child. Here’s how to qualify for free or reduced-price school meals in NYC.

Qualifying for Free or Reduced School Meals in NYC

Students attending school in the five boroughs right now will be offered free breakfast and lunch daily, according to the NYC Department of Education. Your child’s school will have more information on meal times, locations, and how it handles food allergies. You don’t need to apply to receive these free meals, which means less paperwork in an already stressful time. Additionally, students receiving remote instruction this year can pick up free breakfast and lunch at most DOE school buildings, on school days only, from 9am-12pm (you can pick up a meal for your child as well). The DOE can help you find your remote learner’s meal pick-up location. Download the School Food app to view menus and use a FastPass to skip the line.

Qualifying for Free or Reduced School Meals in Westchester and Rockland Counties and on Long Island

The New York State Department of Education provides free and reduced breakfast and lunch to students throughout the state. The meals your child will receive, whether you qualify for free or reduced meals, are the same as full-priced meals, so no student can be identified or bullied for receiving this benefit. Here are the guidelines—and remember, this is just a guide—based on your family’s income level:

  • If your family makes up to 130 percent of poverty-level income, which according to the NYS DOE is $32,630 for a family of four, your child qualifies for free meals.

  • If your family’s income totals up to 185 percent of poverty ($46,435 for a family of four), your child qualifies for reduced price meals.

  • If your family makes more than 185 percent of poverty, you will pay full price for your child’s meals.

Your child will be given numbers, tickets, or swipe cards to pay for his lunch. You must apply for free or reduced meals at the beginning of the school year.

If your family is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, you do not need to apply for meals to be free. Just submit a direct certification letter to the school from your local department of social services. Your school will let you know about your child’s eligibility.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture policy that provides free breakfast and lunch to students extended its benefits to all districts across the country last spring because of the pandemic. According to Newsday, as of Oct. 18, the NYS DOE has said that it will continue participating in this program through the end of the school year. For more information about your child’s eligibility to receive meals through this federal program, contact your school district.


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Jacqueline Neber

Author: Jacqueline Neber is a social journalism MA candidate at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. When she’s not reporting, you can find her petting someone else’s dog. See More

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