Military Pays and Allowances for the Free and Reduced Lunch Programs

As kiddos all over the world are headed back to school, I’ve been seeing lots of questions about how military pay and allowances affect the applications for Free and Reduced Lunch Programs.  Free and reduced cost lunches are a huge benefit to families who are struggling financially and many military families qualify for these programs.

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 101,000 public and non‐profit private schools and residential child care institutions.  It provides nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches to more than 30.5 million children each school day in 2008.  In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children in afterschool educational and enrichment programs to include children through 18 years of age.

The Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the Federal level.  At the State level, the National School Lunch Program is usually administered by State education agencies, which operate the program through agreements with school food authorities. (From the NSLP Fact Sheet.)

The big question is this:  What pays and allowances do you include as income?

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH):  You include the housing allowance if you live off base, but you do not include housing allowance if you live on base or live in privatized military housing.  I can already hear the cries of “unfair!” and I agree.  If anyone wants to start talking to Congress about that, I am sure that you would find a huge amount of support from military families.  Unfortunately, that is the way that the rules are currently written.

Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), incentive pays, alimony, child support and any other income are supposed to be included as income.

Military service members who receive the Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance do not include that allowance as part of their income.

Eligibility for Free or Reduced Breakfast and Lunch programs is based upon Income Eligibility Guidelines (IEGs) that are published by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.  In addition to students who qualify based on the IEGs, families who receive WIC (Women, Infants and Children) or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits are automatically eligible (but may need to apply.)  There are three different charts for IEGs – one for the continental US, one for Hawaii, and one for Alaska (and overseas locations.)  The rates for the 2010-2011 school year have not changed from the 2009-2010 rates.  You can find the charts in this document, but you will have to scroll down to page three.

I hope this answers lots of questions about the free and reduced price school lunch program.  If you have other questions, you can leave them in the comments or contact your child’s school.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Tara

    This isn’t relevant to the article, but the intro statement of children all over the world starting school is incorrect. In the Southern Hemisphere school starts anywhere between December and March, and school in some Southeast Asian countries is year-round.

  • Dawn

    Tara, really?! So maybe she meant all over the U.S. as it’s a U.S. program, whatever. It was just a general statement. Your comment may prove your great worldly knowledge, however, it seems unnecessary at best.

  • AJ

    I have to say I don’t get why the feds want military families to include BAH if we live out in town. So people who choose to own a home or rent out in town are being punished for it, WRONG!!

    Also the fact that we have to record BAS on the form doesn’t make any sense. That money is allocated by the U.S. Military to feed the service member, not the family members. When that service member deploys BAS goes away.

    I think the gov’t does this so the public doesn’t know how the military is paid is crap. My family doesn’t qualify for reduced lunches anymore by $45. So I’m supposed to fork over 3 times what I was while getting reduced lunches for $45 a month, I don’t think so.

    The fact that the gov’t didn’t make any adjustments to the income amounts for 2010-2011 is wrong also. There are many, many American’s stuggling right now to make ends meat and can’t afford to pay $2.50 every lunch for their kids. Of all the times in history for the gov’t to adjust income amounts for this program, 2010 was the year.

    Our fine, fine tax dollars at work people, let your representatives know this doesn’t cut it!!!

  • poor but patriotic

    Make it easier. Stop spending billions a month so the military families can live in 250,000 homes. When they get out, they have no idea how to budget. They end up with foreclosures. Or, they end up like the lady at the town hall meeting who can’t keep sending her kids to private schools and still buy groceries.

    • CGwife

      What are you talking about??? A few stupid people. I have paid off all pre-military debt and sometimes going without food in the early days. We tried to apply for food stamps when my husband was first enlisted when there just wasn’t enough money to last and I was asked why a white military family would need help. Literally thats what she asked me. My paperwork was listed. We are now debt free and have no choice but to live off base as the housing closed due to cut backs. Get educated!!!

    • nina

      I was just going to say the reason they don’t make you claim BAH when you live on post is because you don’t get any money back for housing. A 2 bedroom apt goes for the same as a 3-4 bedroom home, now that’s not fair! When you pay a private landlord he gets the rent the market accepts but in government housing they take all the BAH leaving nothing left no matter what size your home is. So BAH is 1100 where I live and based on maybe another factor but a landlord may charge $600 month so I do end up with $500 left over, otherwise known as income. That’s why off post you have to claim it :/

      • Sandi

        You get nothing back because your water, sewer, garbage, electric or gas or both are also paid for………these are expenses that when you live off post you pay for…..

  • Tina

    I am curious as to where it is stated that those who qualify for WIC are automatically entitled to free lunch. Our household qualifies for WIC, but we do not get free lunches. I want to say our form even told us that could be the case as I believe WIC does not count BAH.

    Either way this has never made sense to me either. We have seven children and some posts, like Ft Carson for one, can not even accommodate our family size on post so we would have no choice but to live off post if stationed there. Other posts have such a long wait list for families that you could be again FORCED to live off post the entire time stationed there possibly. That to me is what is not fair. If everyone had the same equal opportunities to choose living on or off post, sure, but to penalize those who do not have a choice makes this wrong!

  • ambthomas

    Tina not to be funny but with 7 kids I applaud you and you should get free lunches just to ease your sanity! As to your question I have never seen it posted but most places go by if you get any type of public assistance then your income qualifies for reduced or free lunch. I did look it up though and here is what I found but it doesnt say WIC is automatically eligible. I googled the eligibility manual for free and reduced lunch. ok it wont let me copy and paste but only if u get food stamps, the child is a runaway or homeless, or enrolled in head start are they AUTOMATICALLY qualified but everybody else they go by income guidelines.

  • CGwife

    This is completely unfair. We have no choice but to live on the economy as the housing was closed due to cut backs. So we are budgeting just to get by in a new place. I recently left my part time job just to PCS and now because we are on the economy instead of base housing we will struggle all the more!!! WIC doesn’t include BAH. But by the time your kids are in school they aren’t on WIC unless you have a baby at home. You can also apply for free lunches if you are not a US citizen and you do NOT have to supply a social or proof of income. Instant approval for your 20 kids. Especially since they can’t even verify. What is wrong with our system???

  • CGwife

    Some places will accept your tax return though and your BAH is not included in your yearly adjusted gross income. But it does come up if verified by social. Some schools want a monthly though and some schools will take your yearly off your last years taxes. Maybe that will help some of you. Hopefully my kids school will accept it. We make less money monthly now but if they count all that stuff we will not approve for free lunches even though we make almost $1000. less a month. That is unbelievable to me. Good luck Families!!!

    • Vania

      Thanks for the info. I called and here by Ft. Carson they will not accept it. Funny thing is they are wanting to include BAH yet if we were able to turn over a copy of our 1040 its not included like you stated….so on one hand the Federal Government wants us to include it as income, yet when we do our taxes its not included….does that make any sense??!!

  • Vania

    I can’t believe that I am having a problem with getting reduced meals. On the application itself it states income to report on the right side and on the left Military Housing Income. BAH shouldnt’ be counted because by living off post BAH doesnt cover the cost of rent plus we have to pay untilities. To be honest I feel as though they are discrimintating against those living off post. When we arrived they didnt have housing available, hence us renting off post. Today its a year wait. I went to housing today and was told they are not suppose to count BAH. I dont understand why we cant show our lease and LES to show we dont use that money for anything else but rent and utilities. I have contacted our District to try and get a Fair Hearing and I have left a message in DC for non-discrimination. I feel as though they are being unfair and I just want what is fair to all the military families in the same boat. I am at Ft. Carson and I hope to get something taken care of soon. I cant even imagine how many families are going through this.

  • Mandy

    I dont think that BAH should be counted that is like saying you can choose to have a roof over your head or food. The BAH is for us to have a house to live in. We were forced to get a place because it would have been a 3-4 month wait until on post housing would have been available so now we are stuck in a lease. How is this fair to us who are in this kind of situation. I am going to try to get back into working but until then what do we do? My husband is only an E4 and we all know they dont make a lot of money.

  • Jamie

    What about COLA? do we need to include that on the application?

  • Rose

    Are Step children eligable for free school lunch if they are being supported by there biological Father ( Like $500.00 per month per child) in this case 2 Boys..
    How about the biological Son of the Deployed soldier.

  • Cynthiacw84

    Seriously people! Get a life and get over it!!! The military are VERY privileged when it comes to state assistance. I’m in the reserves. Active Duty does not have to include BAH as “household income” meaning that an E-3 makes aprox $2,100 a months base, which qualifies them for state assistance. Add in BAH of about $650 (or more) that is NOT counted and that’s an income of $2,750 a MONTH!! Which would NOT qualify them for state assistance. I have to pay my household bills out of my total monthly income (because I don’t get BAH) which is aprox $2,250 a month. That puts me making too much to receive state assistance. The only difference from me and you is that MY mortgage comes out of the $2,250 and YOURS does not! You get a separate little but of money to pay your mortgage! I feel that ALL active duty should have to include BAH is any program that’s for assistance.

    • addelie french

      you say that active duty is privileged when it comes to state assistance however we are a military family and every state we have lived in has included bah in our household income on the forms.

      • guest

        then you need to go back because 90%of states don’t include it because it’s banned from federal recognition for income purposes. It should be included but it’s not

  • C Atkinson

    I have contacted my congressman about this issue (You include the housing allowance if you live off base, but you do not include housing allowance if you live on base or live in privatized military housing.). I urge others to contact their congressmans office and make it known that this isn’t right.

  • addelie french

    I just have to say that I don’t think people should be griping about military families using state and or government assistance especially when their are people (military or civilian) on food stamps and other assistance buy 60 dollars worth of lobster and other stuff that isn’t needed… the real issue should be people abusing the system that was put into place to help out those in need regardless of the fact that they are civilian or military

  • Kevin

    All you BAH’ers need to live within your means!

    If the DOD is giving you $1500 a month for BAH does that mean you rent a place that costs $1500 a month or mortgage a home for $1500? NO, and you’d be ignorant to due so…seeing that you need to pay for the utilities. If you think it unfair, quit having kids that you can’t afford or get promoted to increase the BAH along with your Base pay.

    You owe it to your children, to set an example of what’s right and what’s wrong. Living out of your means and accepting public assistance for your failures only breeds this behavior for future generations.

    • Guest

      so, Kevin, sounds to me like you either have no kids, or are happy paying too much for something.We don”t pay our food out of our rent account. Our BAH is for rent and utilities Why would it count as income when we don”t see a dime of it. Many military families live paycheck to paycheck, and is it because we are having too many kids or need to get promoted? No, its because we have 2 kids, decide to live in a area with a good school system, so our kids will be smart if we cant live on base, and work our butts off just to stay in! What with all the cut-backs, poor on base school ratings and off base living areas(which is what BAH goes by) some of us just don”t get why or how we need to pay an extra $100 a month for our kids to eat lunch at school when we only spend $200 a month on food for our entire family for breakfast, lunch and dinners!

      • Kevin

        You said it yourself; You “DECIDED to live in an area with a good school system”. Contrary to many people’s opinions. If you’re using the public school system those schools are regulated by the state for its mandatory academics (Math, English, Sciences, History) it’s all the same. What makes the school system favorable is the students that attend, NOT the academics.
        It was your decision to live where you live and pay the prices that you pay. Why fault the system based upon where you decided to live? If a civilian couple had an income of 4K a month they would qualify for reduced meals. Now what if that company paid them an additional 1500 a month in rent money? They wouldn’t qualify for the meal program…just like you. In that scenario that person just earned an additional 18K a year in TAX-FREE money.

      • guest

        easy solution, pack their lunch with them. BAH should be taken into account for reduced meal and government assistance. To say you never see it is the same as me saying I never see a dime of my rent or mortgage payments, it makes NO sense..civilian couples don’t see a dime of their rent or mortgage either then and they don’t get thousands of dollars tax free to pay for it either.

  • Military Diva

    Y’all are some really ignorant people!! smh……The reason SOME civilian couples don’t get the same assistance that the military gets is because THEY DON’T SACRIFICE THEIR FREAKING LIVES BEING DEPLOYED IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES FOR MONTHS AND SOMETIMES YEARS AT A TIME LIKE WE DO!! We’ve MORE THAN EARNED these forms of assistance. Also, it should be noted that when you’re in the military, ALLOWANCES ARE NOT GUARANTEED and can be taken away in certain circumstances so why include something that is considered a privilege, not a right? Also let’s NOT FORGET about THE MANY forms of government assistance programs that are available to CIVILIANS such as; section 8, WIC, food stamps, etc. These people haven’t necessarily EARNED nor SACRIFICED to receive this assistance, they simply qualify due to having low income. So you’re telling me that it’s fair for someone who keeps randomly popping out kids knowing they work at McDonalds to get aid and I get penalized because I stepped up and served?? HAVE A SEAT!!!

  • joe

    Tell me how serving your conutry entitles a person to free or reduced meals at school? I serve our country as well and have been deployed on numerous occasions. During which I receive extra pay for the scarfices I have make. The one thing about militay pay is that you can illustrate that you make a decent living or live in poverty. For example if you were to apply for credit, say buying a new car. You would list all the allowances that are given to you such as BAH, BAS, COLA, Jump pay ect. Which woud qualify for more credit. So, when it comes to the schools meal program you want to leave out the allowances to show that you don’t earn enough and qualify for that assistance.

    • Will

      Joe you have some good points, but that “extra” $500 is never enough for sacrificing my life, especially when it comes to having a family, that depends on you. Now, some might think that I’m in the wrong business, but for some of us this is what we know how to do best and what gives us better opportunity, because after life in the military, i hear is not so great.
      I hope congress gets off their ass, and figures out a solution to this, i admit I’m not living in the ghetto, anymore, all thanks to the military, but sometimes i see civilians abusing the system by sitting on their ass and leaching off the government, selling food stamps to others to get cash and so on. that i believe is not right and there is no one that stops that crap. anyways I’m rambling here. i just hope for a little break once in a while for us struggling military families, even a reduced lunch would be great.
      i will be looking into packing lunches though as stated somewhere in here.