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Education

Medicaid free school lunch program extended to NC, SC students

Mallard_Lunchroom.png
Erin Keever
/
WFAE
The lunchroom at Mallard Creek High in September 2019.

Families covered by Medicaid in North Carolina and South Carolina will automatically become eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches in the 2022-2023 school year, thanks to a program expansion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Currently, most families in the Carolinas have to submit applications and meet income eligibility requirements to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch and breakfast.

The new USDA grant will now make the enrollment process automatic for families with Medicaid, eliminating much of the paperwork for both families and school administrators.

"No application is required, so we cut out a lot of the red tape for parents when it comes to providing meal benefits at school," said Lynn Harvey, school nutrition chief for the North Carolina Department of Instruction.

To qualify for free school meals, households must have an income that's below 130% of the federal poverty level (or roughly $34,450 or less for a family of four) or be enrolled in SNAP or TANF benefits.

To quality for reduced-price school meals, households must have an income below 185% of the federal poverty level (or roughly $49,025 or less for a family of four).

Families can check their eligibility for free or reduced-price school lunches at benefits.gov. The eligibility requirements are the same in both North Carolina and South Carolina.

An estimated 100,000 students in North Carolina are expected to be approved for free or reduced-price lunch as a result of the automatic enrollment, Harvey said. They will join the roughly 900,000 students in North Carolina already receiving free or reduced-price meals at school.

States applied to be part of the USDA's Medicaid school lunch program. North Carolina and South Carolina are now two of 27 states that have been added to the program.

The automatic enrollments will begin in September 2022.

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