Food and Nutrition

NCHE Resources

Access to Food for Homeless and Highly Mobile Students

This brief 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.

Sample Forms, Materials, and Policies

USDA Sample Household Meals Applications

These USDA sample household meals applications inform families or youth experiencing homelessness of their categorical eligibility for free school meals, and recommend next steps to take to ensure receipt of meals.
Download the 2016-2017 Prototype Household Application for Free and Reduced Price School Meals
View the web-based version of the 2016-2017 Prototype Household Application for Free and Reduced Price School Meals.

Other Resources

USDA Interim Rule: Direct Certification and Certification of Homeless, Migrant and Runaway Children for Free School Meals

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 it remains in effect until a final rule is issued.
Download the interim rule.

USDA memoranda on the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004

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 SP51-2016 (August 5, 2016), which encourage LEAs to accept eligibility determinations from a transferring student's former LEA to minimize disruptions in meal benefits for low-income students and avoid student debt resulting from unpaid meal charges.
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 17-2011 (Revised April 16, 2013), which discusses the categorical eligibility of foster children for free school meals.
See USDA Categorial Eligibility for Free Lunches and Breakfasts for Migrant Children Memorandum (August 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 Memorandum SP4 (July 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 Memorandum SP3 (July 7, 2004), which establishes a household's full school year eligibility for free or reduced price meals.
See USDA Guidance on Determining Categorical Eligibility for Free Lunches and Breakfasts for Youth Served under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Memorandum (September 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.
See Updated Guidance for Homeless Children in the School Nutrition Programs (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.

USDA National Hunger Clearinghouse

The National Hunger Clearinghouse, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides information about food resources in communities, including summer meals for children 18 years and younger in low-income communities. The Clearinghouse maintains a database of non-governmental, grassroots organizations that provide food assistance, and also operates the USDA National Hunger Hotline. Contact the Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE to speak with a representative who will find food resources near your location. 
Visit the National Hunger Clearinghouse website.