New guidelines expand federal free and reduced lunch eligibility in Illinois

More families in Illinois could be eligible for free and reduced school lunches this year.

The Illinois State Board of Education is encouraging families to check to see if they qualify.

The United States Department of Agriculture, which runs the school lunch program, is increasing the amount of money people can make to qualify for free and reduced lunch.

The new guidelines say a family of four can make up to $32,630 a year and get a free lunch. That’s about $650 more than last year.

A family of four can make $46,435 and qualify for a reduced price lunch. That’s nearly $1,000 more than last year.

The Illinois State Board of Education’s Roxanne Ramage said everyone who is eligible should apply.

“It’s a lifeline for students who are in the free or reduced lunch category,” Ramage said. “So that those children are able to get the meals that they need to be able to learn at school.”

Ramage said sometimes school meals may be the only meals that some students get.

“Many of our schools are a part of the lunch program,” Ramage said. “We also administer a breakfast program, and we also have after-school snacks.”

Just over half of Illinois’ 2 million students qualify as low income, according to ISBE’s report card. But it’s not clear how many of them are signed up for the free and reduced lunch program.

The State Board said questions about the free and reduced lunch program should be directed to local schools.