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TOKYO — Eligibility rates for free and reduced-price lunches at most overseas military schools have increased by nearly 9 percent, allowing for more military families to be eligible for the food program, according to the Department of Defense Education Activity and school officials in Japan.

In the past, elementary and secondary schools at overseas military bases used Hawaii’s household income rates to determine whether a student qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, according to Rebecca Duncan, 35th Mission Support Group school liaison at Misawa Air Base. Now, those same families may use Alaska’s higher qualifying rates.

The difference is this: The new rules allow a family of four earning $32,500 or less to qualify for free school lunches, up from $29,900. A family of four earning $46,250 or less may now qualify for reduced-price lunches, up from $42,550.

In both cases, it’s an 8.7 percent increase in income levels, according to information provided by Duncan.

The change applies to overseas military installations, not including Puerto Rico or Guam, according to the education activity.

Duncan said DODEA requested the change so more families could qualify for the program.

Even with the older income rates, nearly one in four lunches bought at Department of Defense Dependents Schools in the Pacific are sold at reduced rates, according to information provided by Charles Steitz, spokesman for the Pacific area. In February, one in 10 lunches served at schools in Japan, Okinawa and South Korea were free, according to the data.

At Misawa, nearly one-third of the students use the free- or reduced-price-lunch program, according to Duncan. As of early Monday afternoon, three more students qualified under the new guidelines, bringing the total participation to 571 students in three schools, she said.

“It can really make a difference, especially to a family that has three or four children,” she said. Lunches cost $2.05 per student at the elementary schools and $2.20 at the secondary schools, Duncan said. Reduced-price lunches cost only 40 cents, she said.

Duncan also said families who didn’t qualify at stateside bases might qualify overseas, even if their income and family size is the same. At overseas bases, housing and cost-of-living allowances do not count toward annual income, she said.

The free- and reduced-price-lunch program is provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In military base schools, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Navy Exchange Service Command and Marine Corps Community Services provide the actual meals. AAFES is the largest school food authority, providing USDA-approved school meals to students on Army and Air Force installations in nine countries throughout Europe and the Pacific.

Income-level qualifications for military families

Here are some of the new eligible annual income levels. A family that makes the listed amount or less would qualify.

Free lunchesFamily of 2 .......... $21,450Family of 3 .......... $26,975Family of 4 .......... $32,500Family of 5 .......... $38,025Family of 6 .......... $43,550

Reduced-price lunchesFamily of 2 .......... $30,525Family of 3 .......... $38,388Family of 4 .......... $46,250Family of 5 .......... $54,113Family of 6 .......... $61,975Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

The totals

In February, a total of 151,010 lunches were served in Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Japan, Okinawa and South Korea. Of those, 11 percent were free to qualifying students, and another 23.6 percent were bought at a reduced price. Here’s a look at the three districts:

Japan34,387 total lunches4,949 free lunches8,537 reduced-price lunches

Okinawa87,772 total lunches11,159 free lunches25,228 reduced-price lunches

South Korea28,851 total lunches441 free lunches1,892 reduced-price lunchesSource: Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific

— Teri Weaver


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