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Where in the United States Are Children Most Dependent on Free School Lunches?

It can be shocking to think about how many kids go hungry in America, especially when the United States has a reputation for massive portion sizes, extravagant buffets, and fast-food restaurants at every corner. How many children go hungry in the U.S. each year? According to Save the Children, 17 million children struggle with hunger in the United States, which is 6 million more than before the pandemic. One way that the United States tackled this pressing issue is by offering free meals to all students through the National School Lunch Program, but this measure is set to expire by the end of June 2022. The team at AAA State of Play Playgrounds conducted a study to determine how many students get free lunch in America by state, using pre-pandemic data to highlight in which areas families may need the most assistance if the program ends.

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Where in the United States Are Children Most Dependent on Free School Lunches? - AAAStateofPlay.com - Infographic

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What Is the National School Lunch Program?

The National School Lunch Program is a federally funded meal program serving public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It offers free or low-cost meals each school day that are nutritionally balanced, enabling children to have healthy meals when they may be hard to come by at home. The program was established through the National School Lunch Act, which was signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.

How Many Kids Are on Free or Reduced Lunch in the U.S.?

In 2020, the National School Lunch Program provided around 22.6 million children with free school lunches or reduced school lunches.

Who Is Eligible for Free School Lunches?

Outside of the pandemic measures, National School Lunch Program eligibility has been determined by several factors. If you’re wondering, “Is my child eligible for free school meals?” the first step is to determine whether your child’s school participates in the program. If they do, who qualifies for free lunch depends on household income. Here is a rundown of free school lunch eligibility:

  • Children in households with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level can receive free school meals.
  • If your household income is between 130 and 186 percent of the federal poverty level, your children can receive reduced-price school meals, which means they can be charged no more than 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch.
  • Children in households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservation benefits can get free lunches.
  • Foster youth; homeless, migrant, or runaway youth; or Head Start participants may receive free school lunches by default.

Here is a collection of resources for free food for children if you or someone you know is in need of food assistance programs to ensure healthy nutrition for kids:

Percentages of Children Who Rely on Free School Lunches by State

State

Percentage (%)

Alabama

55.2

Alaska

48.0

Arizona

53.7

Arkansas

63.9

California

59.4

Colorado

40.8

Connecticut

41.7

Delaware

31.4

Florida

55.1

Georgia

60.3

Hawaii

45.9

Idaho

38.5

Illinois

48.9

Indiana

48.9

Iowa

42.5

Kansas

46.8

Kentucky

56.8

Louisiana

53.5

Maine

44.1

Maryland

46.3

Massachusetts

39.9

Michigan

50.0

Minnesota

36.4

Mississippi

74.0

Missouri

50.2

Montana

39.0

Nebraska

45.2

Nevada

61.3

New Hampshire

27.0

New Jersey

37.6

New Mexico

72.3

New York

53.9

North Carolina

56.0

North Dakota

30.3

Ohio

45.3

Oklahoma

60.3

Oregon

48.9

Pennsylvania

50.9

Rhode Island

47.4

South Carolina

62.0

South Dakota

36.9

Tennessee

58.8

Texas

60.6

Utah

32.9

Vermont

36.4

Virginia

44.4

Washington

43.0

West Virginia

50.4

Wisconsin

39.5

Wyoming

36.4

Top 10 Most Dependent States

State

Percentage (%)

Mississippi

74.0

New Mexico

72.3

Arkansas

63.9

South Carolina

62.0

Nevada

61.3

Texas

60.6

Georgia

60.3

Oklahoma

60.3

California

59.4

Tennessee

58.8

Top 10 Least Dependent States

State

Percentage (%)

Idaho

38.5

New Jersey

37.6

South Dakota

36.9

Minnesota

36.4

Vermont

36.4

Wyoming

36.4

Utah

32.9

Delaware

31.4

North Dakota

30.3

New Hampshire

27.0

 

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Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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