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Can You Get a Pell Grant Even If You Don't Qualify for the Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program?

Mark Kantrowitz

February 21, 2011

If a child does not qualify for the free or reduced-price school lunch program, can they still qualify for federal student aid? —Y.P.

Yes. Students who don’t qualify for the free or reduced-price school lunch program can still qualify for federal student aid and should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA added a question about the free or reduced-price school lunch program in 2007-08 because of changes enacted by the Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171). These changes made it easier for families that qualify for certain means-tested federal benefit programs to qualify for federal student aid by providing another option for qualifying for aid. Thus the question was added to help more families qualify for aid and not to exclude any families.

If the income of a dependent student’s parents is less than $50,000 and the family qualified for a means-tested federal benefit program, the simplified needs test will cause assets to be disregarded on the FAFSA. If the parents’ income is less than $31,000 and the family qualified for a means-tested federal benefit program, the expected family contribution (EFC) will be automatically set to zero and the student will qualify for a full Pell Grant. The means-tested federal benefit programs include SSI, food stamps, free or reduced-price school lunch, TANF and WIC.

But you can still receive federal student aid even if you don’t qualify for the free and reduced-price school lunch program. More than four-fifths (82.7%) of Pell Grant recipients in 2007-08 did not indicate on the FAFSA that a family member had participated in the free or reduced-price school lunch program.

The free and reduced-price school lunch program has two eligibility cutoffs based on the poverty line. Children from families with income less than or equal to 130% of the poverty line are eligible for free meals, while children from families with income between 130% and 185% of the poverty line are eligible for reduced-price meals. One must also be enrolled at a participating school. (185% of the poverty line is about $41,000 for a family of four in 2011.)


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