This brief, part of NCHE's Best Practices in Interagency Collaboration
series is designed for state and local child nutrition program administrators, cafeteria managers, State Coordinators for Homeless Education, and local homeless education liaisons. It explains the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Child Nutrition Division (CND) policies regarding eligibility for free school meals for certain homeless, migrant, runaway, and foster students; addresses frequently asked
questions about implementing these policies; and offers tools to ensure that these students can access food both inside and outside of school.
Download Access to Food for Homeless and Highly Mobile Students
This interim rule, effective beginning on June 24, 2011, amends the
regulations affecting the determination
of children's eligibility for free meals
under the National School Lunch
Program and the School Breakfast
Program by direct certification and
categorical eligibility. The rule was open for public comment between April and October 2011, however remains in effect until a final rule is issued.
Download the interim rule
The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-265)
expands federal child nutrition programs in several ways to assist homeless,
migrant, foster, and runaway children and youth by providing:
- Automatic eligibility for free school meals
- Streamlined procedures for documenting eligibility
- Full school year eligibility for free school meals
- Federal nutrition funds for shelters that serve children and youth up to age 18
See USDA Memorandum SP 51-2014
(June 19, 2014), which clarifies that LEAs may consider the effective date of eligibility for free school meal or milk benefits for students who are directly certified to be the date on which documentation of eligibility is received, rather than the date on which the documentation is processed.
See USDA Memorandum SP 11-2014
(December 3, 2013), which clarifies the flexibility available to local educational agency (LEA) officials for establishing the effective date of eligibility for children certified for free or reduced price meals in the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast Programs (SBP) and free milk in the Special Milk Program (SMP) based on household applications.
See USDA Memorandum SP 26-2011
(April 1, 2011), which discusses the eligibility of children evacuated from Japan and Bahrain for USDA child nutrition programs.
See USDA Memorandum SP 17-2011
(Revised April 16, 2013), which discusses the categorical eligibility of foster children for free school meals
See USDA Memorandum SP 17-2010
(Jan 29, 2010), which discusses the eligibility of Haitian refugees for USDA child nutrition programs.
See USDA Memorandum SP3
(Jul 7, 2004), which establishes a household's full school year eligibility for free or reduced price meals.
See USDA Memorandum SP4
(Jul 19, 2004), which establishes the categorical eligibility of homeless, migrant, and runaway children and youth, and provides instructions for documenting the eligibility of homeless children and youth served under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
See USDA Categorial Eligibility for Free Lunches and Breakfasts for Migrant Children Memorandum
(Aug 16, 2004), which establishes the categorical eligibility of migrant students, provides instructions for documenting migrant students' eligibility,
and explains the free meal program's full school year eligibility concept.
See USDA Guidance on Determining Categorical Eligibility for Free Lunches and Breakfasts for Youth Served under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Memorandum
(Sept 17. 2004), which establishes the categorical eligibility of runaway youth served through grant programs established under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, and provides instructions for documenting the eligibility of youth served under the Act.
Guidance for Homeless Children in the School Nutrition
(April 4, 2002), which initially established the guidelines for providing documentation of a student's homeless status for the purpose of receiving free school meals.