Free, reduced meal programs to start sign-ups

With back-to-school season quickly approaching, student enrollment for free and reduced meals at area schools will open for applications soon.

Shifts to the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines mean that some families may have to take a second look at where they lie to be considered for free or reduced meals. Income requirements for households of seven people or more have not changed since last year, but the thresholds for households of six or fewer people have climbed higher for the 2016-2017 year.

For instance, children in a household with four people would qualify for free meals if the household had a before-tax income of $31,525 or less last year, but would qualify this year if the household has an income of $31,590 or less.

Beverly Polk, school food services supervisor for Shenandoah County Public Schools, said that at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, there were 2,704 students, or 44 percent, with free and reduced meals.

“Breakfast and lunch are available to all students,” she said. “We try to encourage all students to eat breakfast and lunch to promote healthy learning from start to finish of their school day,” she said.

The percentage of students receiving free or reduced meals fluctuated throughout the school year. In September, 46.42 percent of students received free and reduced meals. In December, it was 43.49 percent of students. In March, 44.43 percent and in June, 44.18 percent.

Sign-ups for the 2016-2017 program begin Aug. 8 and students can apply at any time throughout the school year.

“I expect sign-ups to be about the same, at least at the beginning of the school year,” Polk said.

She also added that the number of students requesting free and reduced meals has increased over the past few years.

Katherine Humenik, free and reduced meal program manager with Warren County Public Schools, said she’s already had a few parents calling in about applications, “which is a good sign.” Around 40 percent of students in the county received free or reduced meals at the beginning of last school year in September, which fluctuated up to 41.76 percent later in the year.

Humenik said iPads provided to the schools by Sodexo have recently been installed in the front offices of Ressie Jeffries and E. Wilson Morrison elementary schools, Warren County Middle School and Skyline High School. The devices are specifically meant for enrolling a child for free or reduced lunch online.

“They’ll have them throughout the school year because people can apply any time during the school year,” she said.

She said the Child Nutrition Services Department is looking to install one of those iPads at every school in the future.

Children in Warren County who were qualified in the previous school year get a carryover period of meals for 30 days into the next school year. Humenik said she encounters some students who begin to accumulate charges after that period because they haven’t been successfully enrolled for the current year. Though there are a number of criteria that automatically qualify children for the program, she said families should be on the lookout for a letter of approval.

Applications for the programs can be filled out in person or online at www.heartlandapps.com.

Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy and communications for Frederick County Public Schools, reported that around 33 percent of all Frederick County students qualified last school year. He stated that the information on the district’s program for the 2016-2017 year has yet to receive approval from the state.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com