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As a new academic year swings into full speed, military school officials are reminding parents that eligibility for free or reduced-price meals has been adjusted to reflect slightly higher income levels.

This school year, a household of four qualifies with a maximum income of $34,450. In 2007, a family of four with a household income of $32,500 or less qualified for a free lunch, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

Department of Defense schools in the Pacific and Europe adhere to Alaska income categories. The Alaska guidelines are higher than those used for the 48 contiguous states, which Guam schools follow. USDA bases guidelines for free meals and milk and reduced-price meals on federal income poverty data.

The cost for a school lunch at Pacific and Europe military bases is $2.05 for elementary school students and $2.20 for secondary school students, according to information from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which administers overseas school lunch programs. Those eligible for a reduced lunch pay 40 cents per meal.

Families may apply for free or reduced-price meals any time during the school year as their qualifications change, Department of Defense Education Activity officials said in a news release. A family that’s ineligible at the beginning of the school year may reapply if, for instance, household income decreases, household size increases or a household member becomes unemployed.

USDA eligibility rates are based on income before any deductions, such as taxes, according to the department. Income includes dividends or interest on savings or bonds, net rental income, retirement pay and private pensions or annuities.

Overseas cost-of-living allowance is not counted as income, according to Shirley Rogers, 374th Mission Support Group school liaison officer at Yokota Air Base, Japan. However, she said, special pay — such as flight pay and re-enlistment bonuses — is included. The exception is extra pay given to a servicemember while deployed, if the member is using some or all of that income for expenses downrange, Rogers said. If the member is sending it all home, it counts.

Also included as income are child support and alimony, Rogers said.

Families that qualified last year must re-apply before the expiration of a 30-day grace period, starting from the beginning of the current school year.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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