CUMBERLAND — The income eligibility guidelines for receiving free and reduced meals have been revised for the upcoming school year.

Depending on the number of people in household, the income levels necessary to qualify for meal benefits have increased by 2 to 3 percent from the previous year, according to Steve Wilson, supervisor of food and nutrition services for the Allegany County Board of Education.

The income eligibility guidelines, which are revised annually, are set by the federal government and adopted by the Maryland State Department of Education.

This year, a child from a family of four is eligible for free meals if the family’s annual income is below $27,560; a child is eligible for meals at a reduced cost of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch if the family’s income is between $27,560 and $39,220.

The number of students who receive free and reduced meals in Allegany County tends to stay around 48 percent each year, according to Wilson.

The meal benefit application forms will be sent to students around the week of Aug. 11. The meal benefit form will also be available on the Allegany County public schools Web site at www.acps.allconet.org.

Students whose families receive sources of state assistance, such as food stamps and welfare, do not receive applications through the mail because the state automatically enrolls them in the free and reduced-meal program, according to Wilson.

“It is paramount that parents fill out these forms,” said Wilson. Not only do the forms ensure that children receive meal benefits they are entitled to, the free and reduced-meal data is used to determine funding for a variety of programs, said Wilson.

Even if a student received free or reduced meals last year, that student’s parents still need to fill out the form this year.

If a family’s financial situation changes at any time during the school year, they may resubmit a meal benefit application.

This year, eight Allegany County schools are among the 202 schools that will participate in the $3.1 million Maryland Meals for Achievement program, which provides free breakfasts to students.

In the participating schools, breakfasts are delivered to every classroom every morning.

“Everyone gets a breakfast,” said Wilson.

To qualify for the breakfast program, at least 40 percent of the students must qualify for free or reduced meals.

Beall Elementary, Cash Valley, the Center for Career and Technical Education, Flintstone Elementary, George’s Creek Elementary, South Penn Elementary, Westernport Elementary and Westmar Middle will participate this year.

“Maryland Meals for Achievement is a very easy and inexpensive way to fuel students’ minds for success,” said State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick. “Students who participate in the in-classroom breakfast program have improved concentration, fewer health issues, behave better in class and achieve at a higher level.”

The bulk of the Maryland meals funding comes from the federal school breakfast program, which provides cash subsidies for each meal served to students. Basic federal reimbursement rates are $1.40 per meal served to students eligible for free meals, $1.10 per meal served to students eligible for reduced-price meals and 25 cents per meal served to all other students.

Contact Jennifer Raley at jraley@times-news.com.

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