The expansion of guidelines this year for free and reduced-price school meals will help more families in need qualify for help, said Brehan Riley, director of the Office of School Nutrition at the Colorado Department of Education.
“The income guidelines have historically expanded every year. The United States Department of Agriculture revises the guidelines annually based on changes in the consumer price index and federal poverty guidelines,” Riley said.
School officials use household size and total income to determine eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. Household size includes adults and children.
For example, children in a three-person household with a yearly income of $26,546 are eligible for free meals.
An income of $37,777 qualifies them for reduced-price meals.
In 2016 nationwide, an average of 30.3 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program and 14.5 million children participated in the School Breakfast Program each day that school was in session, Riley said.
This equates to 73 percent of all lunches and 85 percent of all breakfasts being served at the free and reduced-price rate.
At Dolores School District RE-4A, 277 students out of 711 received free or reduced-price meals last year, according to district secretary Laurie Arnett. That is about 39 percent of total students in the district.
“Our numbers are down from the previous year because we had fewer students,” Arnett said.
Durango School District 9-R spokeswoman Julie Popp said the district had 32 percent of students, or 1,470 kids out of 4,600, receive free or reduced-price meals in 2016.
“People view Durango as a prosperous community, so it’s hard to grapple with the fact that one in three of our students can’t afford lunch at a $2.40 price. Keep in mind that we have a large demographic that does need additional support,” Popp said.
Other Southwest Colorado school district offices were vacant for the summer and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Applications for free and reduced-price school meals are available at each school or school district office, and only one application is required for all children in a household.
Families that qualify for help must provide the names of all household members, the amount of gross income each household member receives and the frequency and source of pay.