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Illinois ready to make school meals free as federal efforts falter

After legislation passed this week, Illinois will likely become the fifth U.S. state to offer free school meals to all students.
Second-grade students select their meals during lunch break in the cafeteria at an elementary school.
Posted at 2:29 PM, May 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-18 14:29:30-04

Illinois will likely become the fifth state to guarantee free breakfasts and lunches for all grade school students. 

House Bill 2471 passed the Illinois House by an 88-24 margin on Wednesday. It previously earned near unanimous support from the state’s Senate.

The bill means all students, regardless of income, would receive free meals at school once signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Last month, Minnesota became the fourth state to offer free school lunches permanently. A number of other states have proposed similar provisions, but most still only provide free or reduced-cost lunch based on federal guidelines. 

The federal free and reduced-cost lunch program is based on family income. For children to qualify for a free school lunch, their family must earn less than 130% of the federal poverty level. The family must earn less than 185% of the federal poverty level for a reduced-cost meal. 

A sample of food items available during lunch break are shown at Tonalea K-8 school in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Minnesota becomes 4th state to offer free school meals

Minnesota will supplement federal funds with state money to provide free meals to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade.


In 2023-24, the cutoff for free school lunches for a household of four will be $39,000 For reduced-cost lunches, the cutoff for a household of four is $55,500. 

According to state data, 1.01 million out of 1.66 million students in Illinois were eligible for a free lunch this school year. An additional 25,000 students are eligible for a reduced-cost lunch. 

There have been efforts to make free school meals universal throughout the U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, proposed legislation to make school meals free for everyone nationwide. In addition to free meals during the school year, children would also be able to access free meals during the summer.