In the Long Run
National School Lunch Program Participation Up 57 Percent Since 1969
Since 1969, the sixfold increase in the number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches has been the driving force behind the growth in USDA’s National School Lunch Program. In the 1970s, laws relaxed eligibility criteria and prohibited overt identification of children receiving free and reduced-price meals, and the number of free and reduced-price participants grew by 154 percent. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Acts of 1980 and 1981 temporarily halted this upward trend by establishing stricter income guidelines and requiring income verification. Since 1990, the number of children receiving free and reduced-price lunches has grown from 11.5 to 17.9 million.