Over 3.4 million students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in California last year, a 9% jump from two years ago. This amounts to nearly 60% of the entire student population in California. To be eligible, a student's family income must fall below 185% of the federal poverty level, or $40,793 for a family of four. Of the students who received free or reduced lunch, nearly 84% had family incomes below $29,000.
Hardest hit were agriculture communities in the Central Valley (74.8% in Tulare, 75.7% in Merced and 72.5% in Madera) and Imperial County (72.6%).
As appalling as these numbers are, only 70% of eligible students participated in the lunch program, while only 30% participated in the breakfast program. The low participation in the breakfast program may be partly due to ignorance of the program. However, a more prevalent problem is the difficulty of getting to school early enough to utilize this program, particularly for poor children who rely on public transit. Also, some families choose not to participate in either program out of pride.