NYS-TEACHS › Info by Topic: Free Meals

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All students need good nutrition in order to learn. Students in temporary housing are always eligible to receive free meals. This is called "Categorical Eligibility." Click the links below to learn more about free meals.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Find answers to commonly asked questions about free meals for students in temporary housing situations.


New York State Summer Food Service Program

This website has information on the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). In New York, the Summer Food Service Program is administered in New York by the State Education Department (NYSED). It funds free meals for students during the summer months when school is out. Children 18 years of age and younger are eligible to participate in SFSP. Persons over 18 years old who are physically or mentally disabled and who also participate in a public or nonprofit private school program for children with these disabilities can also participate.

Find places in your community where meals are served by clicking here.

The Nutrition Consortium of New York State

The Nutrition Consortium of New York State has useful links and information about emergency food programs in all areas of New York State.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is a national organization with information about free school meals, SNAP, and other nutrition support programs for low income families and children.


Free and Reduced Price School Meals Prototype Application

To help students in temporary housing get free school meals, the McKinney-Vento liaison can submit a letter to the Food Services director as discussed in the FAQs above, or the school district liaison can fill out the Free and Reduced Price School Meals Application on behalf of the family. A sample application form and materials from the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service can be found here.

Laws and Guidance

Eligibility Effective Date for Directly Certified Students [PDF]

This June 2014 memo (USDA Memo SP 51-2014) explains that the date of eligibility for free school meal or milk benefits for students in temporary housing can be the date on which documentation of eligibility is received. It also clarifies that LEAs may refund any money paid by the student or forgive any debt for meals or milk, starting from the free meal eligibility effective date through the date the direct certification is actually implemented at the school.

Effective Date of Free or Reduced Price Meal Eligibility Determinations [PDF]

The Food and Nutrition Service issue this memo (USDA Memo SP 11-2014) on December 3, 2013, to explain how school districts can pinpoint the date on which a student is eligible for free school meals. Local Educational Agencies (including school districts, BOCES, and charter schools) are allowed to use the date when a family turns in their school meal application as the effective date of eligibility, rather than the date a school official approves the application. This also gives school districts flexibility when schools are waiting for documentation of categorical eligibility (e.g., for homeless or migrant children) indicated on a household applications. This policy makes it easier for low-income children to get free meals by allowing access to free or reduced-price meals during the eligibility determination period. It also could assist Local Educational Agencies that are experiencing challenges with unpaid debt.

July 2004 - USDA Guidance for Homeless Children in School Nutrition Programs[PDF]

This guidance memo from the United States Department of Agriculture makes it clear that many students have "categorical eligibility" for free meals, including homeless, migrant, and runaway children and youth. The memo also provides instructions for documenting the eligibility of homeless children and youth who are served under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.


Workshops and Training Materials

Training and Workshop Materials