Back to School for Low Income Families

Aug 23, 2023 2:04:06 PM

The back-to-school season is stressful for all families, but for families living on a lower income, the challenges can be especially tough. Here’s a few resources to keep in mind if you’re in need of a little additional support this school year.

School Lunches

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low income families get access to nutritious food at their local grocery and convenience store. SNAP recipients receive an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card which they can use like a debit card to shop for food. Nearly all household foods are eligible for purchase, including lunchbox staples like fruit and vegetables, sliced meat, bread and so on. If your household income is $2,430 or under for one person, or under $5,000 for a family of four, it’s likely you qualify for SNAP benefits; including if you are not a US citizen. You can also use the program’s confidential online screener to check your eligibility.

Most low income families also qualify for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which offers free or reduced-price lunches to students in elementary, middle and high school. Families making at or below 130% of the national poverty level should qualify for free meals. If the school hasn’t been in touch about how to apply for NSLP, you can access an application online and submit it to your local school district.


Another year of school means another year of school-wide flu bugs, common cold breakouts, and the occasional PE class injury. If you’re concerned about the cost of healthcare, keep in mind that low income families usually qualify for coverage through MassHealth. This means your kids will get low-cost or free visits to the doctor, hospital stays, lab tests and so on. Dental and vision coverage are often included, too. You can apply for MassHealth online.

Clothing & Supplies

A number of organizations offer free back-to-school supplies to help low income families get the school year off to a great start. You can find a list of supply distributors and events online, or check in with local charity shops or community centers to see if employees know of any similar options in your area. Another good option is to get together with other families and hold a back-to-school swap. Every family can bring whatever clothing, school supplies or sports equipment their children no longer need. Ideally, everyone will leave the event with something they’ve been needing.


If your kids are the type who love to get involved with after-school activities, the start of the year can mean a serious uptick in transportation costs. If public transportation is available in your area, look into reduced-fare passes for kids, such as the MBTA Youth Pass Program in the City of Boston. On the other hand, if car rides are a must, find other parents who live nearby and organize a carpool program so that everyone can save time, save gas, and save money.

Academic Support

Students who need additional academic support during the school year may be able to take advantage of no-cost mentoring programs designed to help kids from low-income families thrive. The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, which connects kids to mentors in their local community, is a good place to start. Also check in with a guidance counselor or teacher at school; often, these people have contacts in the community who can get you on the road to finding free or reduced-cost help with homework, national exams, and other kinds of academic needs.

Ad-Hoc Costs

No matter how much you plan ahead, there will doubtlessly be impromptu costs during the school year. Prepare ahead of time by starting a savings account specifically designated for ad-hoc academic needs—from field trips, to sports equipment, to school supplies. On the other hand, if ad-hoc costs do arise and there aren’t enough savings to cover it, have a plan in advance for how you’ll handle it. A low-interest credit card is usually a good option, but a personal loan can work too. Just be sure to work with a reputable lender you trust—and always be wary of payday loans or cash advance schemes from predatory lenders.

Tags: Student Finances