Information and Application for Free and Reduced Meals (FARMs)
HCPSS participates in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs which provide families with significant benefits to help save money. Qualification is based on family size and income, and enrollment is confidential. All children in households receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can get free meals regardless of income, and students from households that meet federal income guidelines are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals. Those eligible for reduced-price meals pay $0.30 for breakfast and $0.40 for lunch.
How to Apply
Please submit only one application per household. Families that need computer or language assistance to apply online, please contact your child’s school.
- After the online application has been submitted and reviewed, eligibility notifications will be sent via email/mail.
Paper applications are sent home with students on the first day of school. Paper applications can also be picked up in the Food and Nutrition Service Office (5451 Beaverkill Rd, Columbia, MD 21044).
Applications can be returned to your child’s school or mailed to the Food and Nutrition Service Office:
HCPSS Food & Nutrition Service Office
10910 Clarksville Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Families must submit a new application every school year
During the first 30 school days, students with free and reduced-price meal eligibility from the prior school year will be carried over.
Any student who has not filled out an application up to the 30th school day will have their prior year status changed to full pay status until a new application is received. Parents / guardians are highly encouraged to fill out the applications as soon as possible. Also, it is very important that applications are filled out correctly.
Did you get a direct certification letter?
Based on monthly information from the Department of Social Services, some students are directly certified to receive free breakfast and lunch meals without submitting an application.
If families receive a direct certification letter in the mail/email, families do not have to fill out a free and reduced-price meal form for the school year.
All other students who did not receive a Direct Certification letter must fill out a new form.
If you have additional questions regarding the FARMs program, please review our FAQ Section or call 410-313-6743.
Participation in the Free and Reduced-Price Meal program qualifies students for:
- Reduced health insurance coverage through Maryland Children’s Health Programs
- Access to HCPSS Pre-K program.
- Free Head Start classes or Pre-K through the Community Action Council (CAC) of Howard County
- Free registration fees for SAT and SAT I subject tests
- Free registration for ACT tests
- Reduced AP exam registration fees.
- Up to four free college applications
- Reduced tuition for HCPSS Summer Programs (High School, G/T Summer Institute, CTE, Summer Institute)
- Reduced tuition for HCPSS Innovative Pathways Program which offers an evening and summer program
- Reduced tuition for HCPSS Digital Education Program which promotes anywhere, anytime learning
- Free or reduced JumpStart tuition offered through our dual enrollment partnership with Howard Community College
- Free access to participate in the Outdoor Education Program for 6th graders. Contact the sixth-grade team leader at your child’s school for more information.
- Free registration for the NCAA Clearinghouse for DI or DII athletics
- Reduced Columbia Association (CA) membership fees and access to the CA Youth and Teen Center
- Tuition-based scholarship at Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts
- Reduced Howard County Rec and Park Program fees (applies to before- and after-care; after-school clubs; sports leagues)
- Reduced YMCA fees (applies to before- and-after- school enrichment; preschool; summer camp)
- Discounted home internet and computers through Comcast Internet Essentials program
- Access to Child Care Subsidy program through the Maryland State Department of Education
- Access to CAC Housing Assistance and CAC Energy Assistance
Reach out to the PPW office to inquire about the following opportunities:
- Help-A-Child vouchers through the Howard County Education Association
- Prepare for Success – School Supplies for Students
- Bright Minds Foundation and Lazarus Foundation gift a certain number of computers to students each year, so your child may be eligible.
Income Eligibility Guidelines (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019)
Household Size: 1
Household Size: 2
Household Size: 3
Household Size: 4
Household Size: 5
Household Size: 6
Household Size: 7
Household Size: 8
For each additional family member add:
Year: + $7,992
Month: + $666
Week: + $154
Frequently Asked Questions
I would like to apply for the FARMs Program, but am concerned that my student may get embarrassed if the teachers or other students learn that we need assistance. How can this be avoided?
We keep student/family FARMs eligibility confidential. We will not discuss student eligibility with anyone except students, parents, guardians and cafeteria managers. All HCPSS schools currently use a Point of Sale (POS) system in cafeterias. All students must enter a six digit (6) PIN number in the POS system to pay for meals. By using this system, students do not know if a classmate’s lunch was pre-paid, free or reduced price.
May I submit just one FARMs application for all of my children?
Yes. This is a family/household application and all children must be listed on one application whether you complete a paper application or submit an online application.
My student was eligible for free meals last year. Do I need to apply this year?
Yes. Families must apply every year to determine their eligibility in the FARMs program. Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines change every year, and it is likely that most household situations change each year. To avoid interruption in meal benefits while new applications are processed, student eligibility is carried over temporarily from the previous school year until the new application can be processed in September of the new school year. Once the new application is processed, the eligibility that is determined will be in effect. Carryover applications not renewed will be terminated at the end of September and all benefits will cease.
When can I apply?
Students or families may apply any time during the school year.
My child brought home a FARMs Program Application and said I must complete and return it to school. Are all families/households required to fill out the application?
No. All families/households are not required to fill out the application. Only families/households who need assistance and fall within the federal Income Eligibility Guidelines should apply. Applications are automatically sent home with every student on the first day of school. Guidelines are printed on the front of the application to help parents/guardians determine if they might qualify for the program.
Why was my student’s application determined to not be eligible for the FARMs program?
Applications are evaluated solely on the number of household members and gross income – no other circumstances can be considered. If you believe your gross income (amount before deductions) is at or less than the maximum income limits for your household size that is listed in the Income Eligibility Guidelines, you should contact the Food and Nutrition Service Office to be certain that you have completed your application correctly.
My family situation has changed. Can I reapply to the FARMs program?
Yes. Families whose household situations change may reapply at any time during the school year.
I lost my copy of the FARMs eligibility notice I received. How can I obtain a copy so that I can apply for other benefits?
Eligibility notices should be kept for the entire school year in order to apply for additional benefits. Call the Food and Nutrition Service Office at 410-313-7134 to request a copy.
Will the information I submit be checked?
Yes, and you may be asked to send written proof by the Office of Food and Nutrition Service.
Who should I include as members of my household?
You must include all people living in your household, related or not, such as grandparents, other relatives, or friends, who share income and expenses. You must include yourself and all children who are living with you. If you live with other people who are economically independent, do not include them.
What if my income is not always the same?
List the amount that you normally receive. If you normally get overtime, include it. If you have lost a job or had your hours or wages reduced, use your current income.
Can foster children get free meals?
Yes, foster children that are under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court are eligible for free meals. Any foster child in the household is eligible for free meals regardless of income.
Can homeless, runaway, Head Start, and migrant children get free meals?
Yes, children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant qualify for free meals. Check with your school for more information and to see if your children qualify.
I get WIC. Can my children get free meals?
Children in households participating in the federal Women, Infants and Children program may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals, but you will need to fill out an application.
May I apply if someone in my household is not a U. S. citizen?
Yes. You or your child do not have to be U.S. citizens to qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
We are in the military. Do we include our housing allowance as income?
If you get an off-base housing allowance, it must be included as income. However, if your housing is part of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative, do not include your housing allowance as income.
My spouse is deployed to a combat zone. Is their combat pay counted as income?
No, if your spouse is receiving combat pay because they are deployed in addition to their basic pay and this combat pay was not received before the deployment, it is not counted as income.
What if I disagree with the decision about my application?
You can contact the Director of Food and Nutrition Service 410-313-6743. You also may ask for a hearing to have the decision reviewed.