New Guidance on When Eligible Students Can Begin Receiving Free School Meals

School lunch tray with a sandwich, an apple and a bottle of milk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released new guidance on the effective date of free school meal or milk benefits (PDF, 61KB) for "directly certified" students, including homeless children and teens.

The guidance clarifies that school districts may consider the effective date of eligibility to be the date the students’ documentation of eligibility is received, rather than the date the documentation is processed.

School districts may refund money paid by or on behalf of the student for reimbursable meals or milk between the effective date of the student’s eligibility and the date the direct certification is implemented at the student’s school.

The USDA defines direct certification as follows:

[D]etermining a child is eligible for free meals or free milk, as applicable, based on documentation obtained directly from the appropriate State or local agency or individuals authorized to certify that the child is:

  • a member of a household receiving assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; or
  • a foster child, homeless child, migrant child, Head Start or Even Start Child, or runaway child.

Read More

USDA memo: “Eligibility Effective Date for Directly Certified Students” (PDF, 61KB)

National Center for Homeless Education food and nutrition resources

NCFY articles about food assistance

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